When India launched its COVID-19 vaccination campaign in mid-January, The chances of success seemed high: It can produce more syringes than any country in the world and has decades of experience vaccinating pregnant women and children in rural areas.
“Our preparations have been such that the vaccine is rapidly reaching all parts of the country,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on January 22. “Regarding the biggest 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, This initial promise and the government’s plans have evaporated into disarray. India has fully vaccinated less than 2 percent of its 1.3 billion people, and vaccination centers across the country say their doses are running out, and exports have nearly stopped. Instead of creating protection, the South Asian country is consolidating Daily records of new infections As a second wave floods hospitals and crematoriums.
Modi’s response was the sudden change of vaccine and supply strategy. Initially, the federal government negotiated prices with manufacturers, distributed them to states, and restricted them to priority groups such as the elderly and health care workers. Starting May 1, everyone over the age of 18 will be eligible to receive the vaccine, while state governments and private hospitals can purchase doses directly from manufacturers for people between the ages of 18 and 45, resulting in A desperate race to secure vaccines in an already limited market.
His government says the new rules make “vaccine pricing, procurement, eligibility and administration open and flexible”. Health experts and officials in opposition-held states say the plan shifts responsibility to regional governments rather than directly addressing the pandemic. Expanding injection launches is also questionable when India is running out of stock, say developers such as Serum Institute of India Ltd. The United States has been stockpiling ingredients and new supplies may take months.
“There was no discussion with state governments before asking states to buy vaccines on their own,” said TS Singh Dieu, the state health minister in Chhattisgarh. “As a country, we will have to buy vaccines on the open market, which will seriously affect our finances.”
The nation is now the global hotspot of the pandemic, Despite being home to the largest vaccine manufacturer in the world.
Given India’s growing strategic importance, its wave of infections is not only jeopardizing the emerging recovery in Asia’s third largest economy, but also trying to control COVID-19 and recover globally.
“The vaccination program has to be really a big focus,” said Raina MacIntyre, professor of biosafety at the University of New South Wales in Sydney. “Vaccinating people would also reduce selective pressure for the emergence of new strains.”
While it is easy to identify now, the Modi government has missed an opportunity to focus on supporting vaccine production and expanding the ailing healthcare system. a Over-reliance on technology The application-based menu has made it difficult to register its poor and rural citizens, Modi’s plan did not use India’s army of 1 million trained health workers, Social Health Activists or ASHA accredited to reach vast remote rural areas, a strategy that has made their polio vaccine a success.
Instead, government officials They focused on showing India’s ability to help the world.
On January 28th, when Modi said at the World Economic Forum’s virtual Davos summit that India would help other countries with vaccines, The number of daily cases reached 18,885 that day, compared to 379,257 cases on Thursday. By that time, the vaccine and other vaccine developers were already warning of a shortage, and in a nod to the United States, India has slowed vaccine exports and expanded domestic vaccinations for people 45 and older.
While the immunization plans are affected for countries around the world, Life in India was practically normal. Millions of pilgrims bathed in the sacred river Ganges at the Hindu religious festival Kumbh Mela, while political parties organized mass demonstrations in five state elections.
Less than six weeks later, Health Minister Harsh Vardan said, “We are at the end of the COVID-19 pandemic in India.” Even on March 30th, when cases increased again, Vardin insisted “the situation is under control”.
“There is no COVID in Assam,” said Himanta Pessoa Sarma, a member of Modi’s party who is the state’s health minister, on April 3. “I don’t need to wear a mask now.”
On April 16, dose shortages became so severe that Serum CEO Poonawala sent a direct tweet to President Joe Biden asking him to lift the US ban on raw material exports.
Three days later, Modi abandoned his vaccination strategy and placed the burden on states, many of which are frustrated. India has practically stopped sending vaccines to other parts of the world, prompting its neighbors to seek help from China.
Kerala’s finance minister, Thomas Isaac, described Modi’s new vaccine plan as a “smart political tactic” rather than a solution.
“There was no coordination or consultation on how the vaccination policy would work,” said Balbir Singh Seydou, Minister of Health from the opposition Punjab state in the north of the Congress led by Congress. “Everything from top to bottom.”
A spokesperson for India’s health ministry did not respond to calls and emails seeking comment.
The big question now How India can increase supplies to get vaccines to nearly 600 million other people. The shortage is already evident in the current program to give vaccines to people 45 and older, causing vaccination rates to drop steadily across the country, even as more than 10 million registered for doses when the campaign opens on Wednesday.
Officials from several states said the vaccine providers are from India: The Serum Institute, which produces AstraZeneca injections; And Bharat Biotech International, which offers locally developed vaccination, have been told that they can expect supplies to county governments beginning in mid-May, although eligible can register for the vaccines as of April 28.
“The price should be zero”
Serum and Bharat Biotech both said they can increase capacity for July only, with stocks split evenly between center and states. New Delhi has approved the emergency use of Russia’s Sputnik V and news reports say some imports could arrive in May, but there are no details on the quantity. The United States promised to send materials to India to make vaccines and to share its arsenal of Astra vaccinesBut the details are unclear. Then there is the cost. State governments have been told they will have to pay $ 5-8 for vaccinations, up to three times what the federal government pays.
After protesting the increases, Bharat Biotech announced Thursday that it will reduce the amount it charges states to 400 rupees ($ 5.4) per 600 rupees dose, a day after Serum CEO Adar Poonawalla announced that his company would cut prices by 100 rupees.
Rajesh Top, the health minister for Maharashtra, which is home to the country’s financial capital, Mumbai, said the state would spend 65 billion rupees vaccinating its residents for free, but it could not expand the program to include all adults. At the moment it does not have enough doses.
India was already one of the few countries to allow the private sale of COVID-19 injections, when it allowed private hospitals to start vaccinations at a fixed price of around $ 3 a dose. Now the cost has risen to between $ 8 and $ 16 per dose, which means it’s administered at higher rates.
Arvind Subramanian, a former economic advisor to the Modi administration, tweeted over the weekend: “There must be a price tag for vaccine injections throughout India.” “This price should be zero.”
Bebodata Pradhan, Archana Choudhury, Sudhi Ranjan Sen Kun La Ayuda de Chris Kay, Puma Shrivastava Y Duani Pandya