'Narrow politics': Health Minister criticizes states demanding more vaccines
Referring to demands by various state governments to increase their respective COVID-19 vaccines' quota amid reports of acute shortage, Union Health Minister Dr. Harsh Vardhan on Thursday said this approach harms the "whole-of-government" approach and arouses "narrow political passion among the masses." He made these remarks after reviewing the COVID-19 situation in six states: Maharashtra, Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan, and Delhi.
Since vaccination for people in the age group of 18-44 years began on May 1, states have reported a shortage of vaccines. Maharashtra, Delhi, Karnataka, and Rajasthan have halted the vaccination of people below 45 years for the meantime, citing the Centre's directive to prioritize vaccination for the 45+ group. Hence, a common demand from the states was to increase their vaccine quota.
Dr. Vardhan said 88% of COVID-19 fatalities were in the age group above 45 years. Previously, states were asked to dedicate at least 70% of allocated vaccines from the 'Government of India' channel for beneficiaries' second doses, Mint reported. "The lack of availability of a second dose has been taken into consideration when guidelines for reserving 70% of vaccines were framed," Dr. Vardhan added.
Dr. Vardhan said that the production capacity of COVID-19 vaccines is being ramped up and states also have the non-government channel to procure vaccines for their population. He was referring to states now being allowed to directly negotiate with domestic vaccine manufacturers. However, state Health Ministers present at the meeting requested the Union Minister for a common policy for the procurement of foreign vaccines.
At least 10 Indian states—including Delhi, Karnataka, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, and Uttarakhand—have issued global tenders to procure vaccines from international manufacturers in a bid to fast-track their respective inoculation drives. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on Thursday said the fact that the states are left to compete with one another in the international market portrays a "bad" image of India.
During the meeting, Dr. Vardhan noted that the B.1.617 variant of coronavirus has contributed to the surge of cases and advised all states to regularly send samples to the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomic Consortia (INSACOG) labs for tracking its continually emerging variants. He reiterated the need for stringent containment measures to curb the virus and said, "The strategy remains the same irrespective of the variants."
National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) Director Dr. Sujeet K Singh presented epidemiological findings at the meeting along with a granular analysis of the COVID-19 trajectory in states. He pointed out that the apparent shift of COVID-19 towards lower age groups is driven by the fact that a considerable proportion of the higher age group has been vaccinated against the viral infection.
Health ministers of Maharashtra (Rajesh Tope), Karnataka (K Sudhakar), Kerala (K Shailaja), Tamil Nadu (M Subramanian), Rajasthan (Raghu Sharma), and Delhi (Satyendra Jain) virtually attended the meeting. They were advised to take a pro-active role in ensuring rotation of medical personnel and their regular counseling.
Dr. Vardhan also highlighted the viral spread to India's rural areas since the health infrastructure there is not equipped to deal with the surge. However, Dr. VK Paul, NITI Aayog member (Health), said 216 crore doses will be made available in India between August and December. "There should be no doubt that vaccines will be available for all as we move forward," he added.