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Covid-19: How India’s Vaccine Campaign Collapsed and Left a Country in Chaos | India News

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NEW DELHI: When India launched its Covid-19 vaccination campaign in mid-January, the chances of success seemed high: It could produce more injections than any country in the world, and it had decades of experience inoculating pregnant women and babies in rural areas. .
“Our preparation has been such that the vaccine is rapidly reaching all corners of the country,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on January 22. “With regard to the greatest need in the world today, we are completely self-sufficient. Not only that, India is also helping many countries with vaccines. ”
Just over three months later, that initial promise has evaporated and the government’s plans are in disarray. India has fully vaccinated less than 2% of its population of 1.3 billion, inoculation centers across the country say they are running out of doses, and exports have all but stopped. Rather than create protection, the South Asian nation is setting daily records for new infections as a second wave overwhelms hospitals and crematoriums.
PM Modi’s response has been to abruptly change strategy on vaccines and supplies. Initially, the central government negotiated prices with manufacturers, distributed them to states, and restricted them to priority groups such as the elderly and healthcare workers. As of May 1, everyone over the age of 18 is eligible for a vaccine, while state governments and private hospitals can buy doses directly from manufacturers for people ages 18 to 45, setting off a desperate race. to secure vaccines in an already limited market.
His administration says the new rules make “vaccine pricing, procurement, eligibility and administration open and flexible.” Health experts and officials in opposition-controlled states say the plan passes the buck to regional governments rather than directly addressing the pandemic. Expanding the launch of injections is also questionable when India is running out of stock, with developers like the Serum Institute of India Ltd. saying the United States has been stockpiling ingredients and new supplies could take months.
‘Without discussion’
“There was no discussion with state governments before asking states to purchase vaccines on their own,” said TS Singh Deo, the Chhattisgarh state health minister. “As a state, we will have to buy vaccines on the open market, which will seriously affect our finances.”
Given India’s growing strategic importance, its wave of infections puts at risk not only the incipient recovery in Asia’s third-largest economy, but also attempts to control Covid-19 and recover globally. The nation is now the main focus of the pandemic, despite being home to the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer.
“The vaccination program should really be a great focus,” said Raina MacIntyre, a professor of biosafety at the University of New South Wales in Sydney. “Getting people vaccinated will also reduce the selective pressure for new strains to emerge.”
While easy to identify now, Modi’s government missed an opportunity to focus on supporting vaccine production and expanding its decrepit healthcare system. An over-reliance on an app-based technology made it difficult for its poor and rural citizens to register, and Modi’s plan did not use India’s army of one million trained health workers, accredited social health activists, or ASHAs. – to reach his vast rural hinterland, a strategy that made his polio vaccination a success.
Warning signs
Instead, government officials focused on demonstrating India’s ability to help the world.
On January 28, when Modi said at the World Economic Forum’s virtual Davos Summit that India would help other countries with vaccines, the daily case count was 18,885 that day, compared with 379,257 on Thursday. By then, Serum and other vaccine developers were already warning of shortages and pointing the finger at the US India slowed vaccine exports and expanded domestic vaccines to those over 45.
Although the immunization plans of countries around the world were affected, life in India was practically normal. Millions of pilgrims bathed in the holy Ganges River at the Hindu religious festival Kumbh Mela, while political parties held massive demonstrations in five state elections.
Less than six weeks later, the Union’s health minister, Harsh Vardhan, said that “we are at the end of the Covid-19 pandemic in India.” Even on March 30, when the cases increased again, Vardhan insisted that “the situation is under control.”
“There is no Covid in Assam,” said Himanta Biswa Sarma, who serves as the state’s health minister, on April 3. “You don’t need to wear a mask now.”
On April 16, the dose shortage had become so acute that Adar Poonawalla, Serum’s chief executive, directly tweeted President Joe Biden asking him to lift the US embargo on raw material exports.
State charge
Three days later, Modi abandoned his vaccination strategy and threw the burden on the states, many of which are frustrated. India effectively stopped shipping vaccines to other parts of the world, prompting its neighbors to seek help from China.
Kerala State Finance Minister Thomas Isaac called Modi’s new vaccine plan a “smart political tactic” rather than a solution.
“There has been no coordination or consultation on how the vaccination policy will work,” said Balbir Singh Sidhu, health minister in the opposition Punjab state, north of Congress, led by Congress. “Everything is from top to bottom.”
A spokesperson for the Health Ministry did not respond to calls and emails seeking comment.
A big question now is how India can increase supply to provide vaccines to another 600 million people. The shortage is already evident in the current program of giving vaccines to people 45 and older, causing vaccination rates to drop steadily across the country, even as more than 10 million signed up to receive the doses when opened on Wednesday.
Officials from several states said the two vaccine providers from India: the Serum Institute, which produces the injection for AstraZeneca Plc; and Bharat Biotech International Ltd., which make a domestically-developed inoculation, have been told they can expect supplies for provincial governments from mid-May, though those eligible can register for the vaccines starting April 28.
‘The price should be zero’
Both Serum and Bharat Biotech have said they can only increase capacity by July, with existing stock split evenly between the center and the states. New Delhi approved Russia’s Sputnik V for emergency use and news reports say some imports may arrive in May, but there are no details on the quantity. The United States promised to send materials for India to make vaccines and share its Astra vaccine arsenal, but the details are unclear. Then there is the cost. State governments were told they would have to pay between $ 5 and $ 8 for vaccines, up to three times what the federal government pays.
Rajesh Tope, the health minister of Maharashtra, home to the country’s financial capital, Mumbai, said the state will spend 65 billion rupees to vaccinate its residents for free, but cannot expand the program to all adults. for now because it does not have enough doses.
India was already one of the few countries that allowed the private sale of Covid-19 injections, when it allowed private hospitals to start inoculating at a fixed price of around $ 3 per dose. Now the cost has risen to between $ 8 and $ 16 per dose, which means they administer them at even higher prices.
“There should be a price for vaccine injections across India,” Arvind Subramanian, a former chief economic adviser to the Modi administration, tweeted over the weekend. “That price should be zero.”

Times of India

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