Vardhan said demands of some politicians to open vaccination to all were attempts to cover up poor progress in delivering the shots. He said such statements were “most concerning” as the objective of the inoculation drive was to reduce mortality among the most vulnerable, and prioritisation was unavoidable as long as supply of shots was limited.
Vardhan’s statement came after Maharashtra alleged shortage of vaccines was resulting in vaccination centres shutting down, and demands from some leaders, including the Maharashtra and Delhi CMs, that vaccination eligibility age be lowered drastically.
The minister’s rebuttal of Maharashtra’s allegations was sharp. Calling its attitude “lackadaisical”, he said, “the inability of Maharashtra government to act responsibly is beyond comprehension.”
Throughout the last year, Vardhan said, he had “been a witness to the misgovernance and utter casual approach of the Maharashtra government in battling the virus”.
“Today, Maharashtra not only has the highest cases and deaths in the country but also has one of the highest test positivity rates in the world. Their testing is not up to the mark and their contact tracing leaves a lot to be desired. Focusing all their energies on playing politics and spreading lies to create panic is not going to help the people of Maharashtra,” Vardhan said.
The minister was also critical of the Chhattisgarh government which refused to accept Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin when it was cleared for emergency use in clinical trial mode and said it had earned the dubious distinction of promoting vaccine hesitancy.
He added that quality of testing needed to improve in Karnataka, Rajasthan and Gujarat. In Punjab, high CFR needed to be improved by early identification of those needing hospitalisation, he added.
The minister said Maharashtra had vaccinated just 86% of health workers with the first dose. The equivalent numbers for Delhi and Punjab are 72% and 64%. On the other hand, 10 Indian states/UTs have done more than 90%.
“Among frontline workers, Maharashtra has vaccinated only 73% with the first dose. Equivalent numbers for Delhi and Punjab are 71% and 65%. There are five states/UTs that have already done more than 85%,” he said.
The health ministry has also written to Maharashtra, Punjab and Delhi pointing out lapses in coverage and advised them to take immediate corrective action to improve the vaccination coverage. The Centre has maintained that the priority is to protect those who are vulnerable and at higher risk of mortality.