With vaccines in the armoury, and a mass inoculation drive already under way, combating a second wave would be easier, one would have thought.
But as daily infections shatter all previous records, these questions are now being asked.
Several districts in Maharashtra have reported shortages of Covid vaccines. Gondia, Akola, Yavatmal and Buldhana have just enough stocks to last a day more, officials said. They have complained that the Centre is not replenishing stocks regularly.
Mumbai mayor Kishori Pednekar too said that vaccine stocks in the city are almost exhausted.
Maharashtra health minister Rajesh Tope said the state is facing a severe shortage and has demanded 40 lakh doses every week from the Centre.
Union health minister Harsh Vardhan however assured that no state will face shortage, and supplies of Covid-19 vaccines would be as per requirements.
Some states are also grappling with the problem of vaccine wastage. The average wastage in India has been estimated at 6.5%, with maximum being reported from Telangana (17.6%), Andhra Pradesh (11.6%), Uttar Pradesh (9.4%) and Karnataka (6.9%).
By mid-March, India had exported over twice the number of doses it had administered at home. Millions of doses were given as aids to neighbours and friendly countries, shipped out in commercial contracts or to the UN’s Covax program.
The government’s Vaccine Maitree outreach seemed well on track.
But with the second wave of Covid-19 hitting hard, the policy has come under question.
Some opposition parties have demanded curbs on exports till the entire population is immunised.
Union health minister Harsh Vardhan made a statement in Parliament on March 16, that vaccines are not being exported “at the expense of Indians.”
However over the next few days, exports dropped sharply. All major exports of the AstraZeneca vaccine, being manufactured by Pune’s Serum Institute, were put on hold.
A comparison of government’s data between April 3-7 suggests a virtual halt on Covid vaccine exports.
This created ripples worldwide, as several countries, and also WHO’s Covax program, is heavily dependent on supplies from India.
Serum CEO Adar Poonawalla said the company has “chosen to prioritize India temporarily for two months” and hopes to then restart exports around June.
The ‘who gets, who waits’ debate
As cases rise at an alarming rate in Maharashtra, Delhi and elsewhere, there is a growing demand to open up vaccination for the general public and allow further participation by the private sector.
Chief ministers of both states have requested the Centre to relax the age criteria.
But the Centre has maintained that the vaccine policy is based on scientific principles and is intended to secure vulnerable population first, keeping in mind the supplies.
Health secretary Rajesh Bhushan clarified that the objective is to inoculate “those who need and not those who want it,” adding that in the current phase of immunisation till July, vaccines will be in limited supply.
After prioritising jabs for healthcare workers, persons with co-morbidities and those above 65 years, vaccination has now been opened to all citizens above 45.
India has administered over 8.4 crore doses till Tuesday 8 pm, which includes first dose to over 5.44 crore people of 45 years and above.