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India struggles to cope with COVID-19 vaccine shortage

2021 Jun 11, 20:47, NEW DELHI
People queue up for COVID-19 vaccine in Mumbai, India, on Monday, April 26, 2021. Photo: AP via RSS

India faces a Herculean task ahead of vaccinating nearly 940 million of its population, out of the roughly 1.35 billion, against the COVID-19 pandemic which has already claimed over 363,000 human lives in the South Asian country.

The task has become all the more difficult amid an acute shortage of vaccines the country saw over the past several weeks.

Under the federal government's plan, the vaccine rollout for all adults aged above 18 years kicked off on May 1, and the move added a sudden pressure on the vaccination drive leading to an acute shortage of vaccines.

The Indian government has pledged to complete part of the work by the end of this year. Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced on Monday that the task of administering the jabs free of charge will be undertaken by the federal government.

To allay fears for the vaccine shortage, Modi said that as many as seven companies were engaged in manufacturing vaccines in India, and that efforts were meanwhile made to procure vaccines from other countries.

"Trials of 3 more vaccines are at an advanced stage. We are also buying vaccines doses from foreign countries. Besides, work is underway in developing 2 vaccines exclusively for the kids," added Modi.

He further said that research was underway for developing a nasal vaccine too. "If we succeed in developing it, we will allow its production at a fast pace," he added.

India remains among the recipient countries to get vaccines from the United States.

Replying to a correspondent's question of how many vaccine doses India expects to receive from the US administration, foreign ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi on Thursday said the Indian government still awaits an answer.

"We are awaiting the exact quantity and type of vaccines to be given to India and the timeline for the same," Bagchi said.

A couple of weeks before the third phase of vaccination began, India was hit by the second wave of COVID-19, and the number of new cases spiralled with each passing day throwing the whole medical system into a nightmare.

Ahead of the second wave of coronavirus infections, Indians were too casual about getting the vaccine jabs. But, no sooner than the second wave began from the beginning of April, and youngsters aged 18 years and over too were made eligible to get their first dose, there emerged serpentine queues outside vaccination centres.

At some vaccination centres, there had been chaos as people jostled over each other to get the jab. All of a sudden there was a huge demand for vaccine doses from across the country, but the production capacity remained the same, leading to a wide gap between demand and supply.

The second wave was largely blamed on the elections in the five states of West Bengal, Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Uttar Pradesh, and the congregation of millions of people for a bathing festival in the northern hilly state of Uttarakhand, between March and April.

The second wave of the pandemic literally jolted India. On the one hand, the daily spikes of over 400,000 cases and over 4,000 deaths were recorded on several days from April to May, and on the other hand, there was a huge deficit of vaccines.

Most of the vaccination centres continue to remain shut in most of the states over the want of vaccines. Not more than 300 doses per day are being provided to the centres functioning at present.

Vaccination for those in the 18-44 age group in the capital New Delhi resumed on Thursday after a break lasting more than two weeks, as the state government received around 150,000 vaccine doses for this category.

A legislator in Delhi said that many youngsters in the age group of 18-44 had been administered the first dose but were not able to find any place to receive the second dose. "Now Covaxin is available and people can get the second dose," said the legislator on Wednesday evening.

Two India-made vaccines, Covaxin and Covishield, and one Russia-made vaccine Sputnik V have been in use in India since mid-January when the vaccination drive began nationwide.

A doctor working for the government in the northern state of Haryana expressed hope that the state's health department would receive more vaccine doses in the coming days as the vaccine manufacturing was being ramped up in the country.

As per the latest data released by the federal health ministry on Friday, more than 256 million vaccine doses have been provided to states so far. Of them, a total of 244 million doses have been used including the wasted.

More than 11.7 million COVID-19 vaccine doses are currently available for the states, and more than 3.8 million doses are expected to reach the states within the next three days, said a statement issued by the ministry.


india COVID-19 pandemic Vaccine PM Narendra Modi Covaxin CoviShield sputnik V
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