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“Vaccine Politics” Taking Precedence over Patients

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Manas Dasgupta

NEW DELHI, Apr 8: As the Covid situation is threatening to go out of control with daily spike in cases creating new records every day, “vaccine politics” seems to be taking precedence over care for the patients.

After some ease in mid-February-March, the second wave of the virus has since returned with a vengeance with more than 126,000 new infections recorded in the past 24 hours, a new record. The country had recorded 1.16 lakh cases on Wednesday, 97,000 cases on Tuesday and 1.03 lakh cases on Monday.

The issue of vaccine shortage has resulted in a war of words between the Centre and the non-BJP ruled states, particularly the worst-hit Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh. While the states were blaming the centre for vaccine shortage, pointing out that even the smaller BJP-ruled states were getting more vaccine doses than a major state like Maharashtra only because it was governed by the non-BJP parties, the centre while refusing to accept there was any shortage had blamed the state governments of “mishandling” the situation and “wasting” vaccines.

In response to the Maharashtra health minister Rajesh Tope’s warning on Wednesday that the state was facing acute vaccine shortage, the union health minister Harsh Vardhan had slammed the Maharashtra and other non-BJP state governments for creating “vaccine panic,” He had claimed that these state governments were trying to cover their “failures” and spreading panic among people by demanding vaccination of all without inoculating enough of eligible beneficiaries.

He further said the Maharashtra health minister; statement about vaccine shortage in the worst-hit state was “nothing but an attempt to divert attention from Maharashtra government’s repeated failures to control the spread of pandemic”.

The union government refused to admit that there was any shortage of vaccine in the country even though simple arithmetic was against his claims. The media reports have pointed out that Pune-based Serum Institute of India manufacturing “Covishield” and Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech producing “Covaxin” together have the capacity to produce 23 lakh doses of vaccines per day while the centre claimed that India was inoculating 33 lakh doses per day.

With a part of the vaccine produced in country continued to being exported under the central government’s “vaccine maître” scheme to enhance international friendship through vaccine supply, the country was bound to fill shortage at some stage if the doses injected continue to outnumber the daily production of vaccine in the country.

Realising the gravity of the situation, a number of medical experts in the country have suggested to the centre to allow some subsidiary manufacturing centres to start producing Covid vaccine with help from SII and Bharat Biotech, or allow some other time-tested vaccines to be imported into India, but the centre had been slow in taking decisions on these crucial issues.

Leading the war of words against the centre was Maharashtra  where health minister issued a dire warning on Wednesday, saying supplies would run out in three days unless replenished.

He also said that vaccination drive has been stopped at many centres because of the shortage of doses. On Thursday, Tope said the Centre agreed to send 17 lakh doses, as against only 7.5 lakh doses earlier agreed, but this number was also less as Maharashtra needed about 40 lakh doses to meet its daily target. The Health Minister also pointed out that the state should get more of the vaccine as Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh are getting over 40 lakh does, Gujarat over 30 lakh and Harayana over 24 lakh doses.

But the Centre accused the Maharashtra government of wasting the doses. “Maharashtra has 23 lakh doses, which is supply for five days. Every state has stock for 3-4 days. It is the state’s responsibility to send it to various districts. Maharashtra has, in fact, wasted five lakh doses,” said Union minister Prakash Javadekar.

On Wednesday, Union health minister Harsh Vardhan lashed out at Maharashtra government, accusing it of “misgovernance” in tackling Covid-19. In a strongly worded statement, the health minister said that Maharashtra followed “utterly casual approach”.

The statement was criticised by chief of Nationalist Congress Party’s (NCP) Maharashtra unit and water resources minister Jayant Patil. In a tweet, Patil said, “The letter circulated by the Union health minister yesterday, is only hatred towards Maharashtra. The role of central government is non-cooperative with Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi government as we do not have similar ideology.”

Refuting the union health minister’s charges, the Chhattisgarh health minister TS Singhdeo said, “It’s right and worrisome that mortality is increasing in the state but saying that vaccination isn’t being done here is false. Centre’s data show that Chhattisgarh is one of the top 4 states of the nation that have vaccinated more than 10% of its population,” he said.

Meanwhile, several regions have tightened curbs on activity while Maharashtra, the current epicentre of India’s epidemic, is set to enter a lockdown at the weekend. The state government there has also announced a series of fresh curbs to check the spread of the infection.

The Madhya Pradesh government on Thursday announced a weekend lockdown from 6 pm on Friday to 6 am on Monday in a move to control the steep surge in coronavirus cases in the state. Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan said “appropriate action” would be taken for cities witnessing a rise in cases. “For cities where cases have increased, appropriate action will be taken after meeting of crisis management group. We are making containment areas in big cities,” he added.

Of the total of 1,26,789 new cases in India on Thursday, Maharashtra recorded a new high of 59,907 cases, while Chhattisgarh’s count went past the 10,000-mark for the first time. Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh, too, reported more than 6,000 cases. The country also recorded 685 related deaths. India’s caseload now stands at 1,29,28,574, of which 8,43,473 are active cases and 1,18,51,393 people have recovered from the virus.

The Prime Minister Narendra Modi received the second dose of vaccine at the All India Institutes of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi, on Thursday. He had got his first shot of Covaxin on March 1.

In Mumbai, the retired cricketer Sachin Tendulkar was discharged from hospital after recovering from COVID-19. He will be in home quarantine for few days.

Noida and Ghaziabad administrations announced a night curfew in the wake of rising Covid cases in UP from 10 pm to 5 am till April 17. The movement of essential goods and services will be exempted from the order, said officials.

The Centre has also dispatched 50 teams to various badly-affected states, including Maharashtra.