NEW DELHI – Amid a serious supply crisis, India on Saturday launched a nationwide drive to vaccinate all people aged 18 and above.
The campaign to vaccinate all adults was started on a day that saw India become the first country in the world to report more than 400,000 coronavirus cases in 24 hours.
Over 3,500 more deaths were also reported over the past day, as the country’s healthcare system reels under a deadly second wave of the pandemic that has triggered a critical shortage of hospital beds, drugs, and oxygen.
As of Saturday, India’s total caseload crossed 19 million while the death stood at 211,853.
Nearly 160 million doses have been administered in the country since the first vaccinations started on January 16.
Previously focusing only on frontline workers and people over the age of 45, the government is now aiming to vaccinate as many adults as possible.
However, several states have delayed the expanded rollout because they do not have enough doses to carry out the exercise.
Most residents of the capital New Delhi will also have to wait for their Covid-19 shots, with Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal saying that vaccinations will be ramped up as authorities get more doses.
Many private hospitals in Delhi, though, started offering vaccination services on Saturday, prompting more criticism of the government’s failure to ensure adequate supplies for public hospitals.
“I registered on the [government] website two days ago but my appointment was never confirmed. All of this looks like a farce,” Prashant Kumar, a Delhi resident, told Anadolu Agency.
Along with vaccines, Delhi, where an ongoing lockdown was extended for one week on Saturday, has also been facing a dismaying shortage of oxygen.
Eight Covid-19 patients died at the Batra Hospital and Medical Research Center in the capital on Saturday after the facility’s oxygen supply ran out.
“Our oxygen supply did not arrive on time and we lost eight lives, including a senior doctor,” Dr. Sudhanshu Bankata, the hospital’s executive director, told Anadolu Agency.
“We have received some more [oxygen] for now, but it will only last for about another hour. More supply is still on the way.”
In the financial hub of Mumbai, authorities have started vaccinations at just a few designated centers and declared that there will be no walk-in registrations.
‘We must stock up on vaccines’
Experts have criticized Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government for failing to take into account the situation on the ground before announcing the start of the expanded vaccination drive, saying many states have been “caught short” by the decision.
India has approved three jabs for use in the country, with one of them being Russia’s Sputnik V.
The other two are Covishield – made by Oxford University and AstraZeneca and being manufactured by the Serum Institute of India – and the locally developed jab called Covaxin.
“There is a shortage. We cannot hide the fact that there is a shortage of vaccines [in India],” K. Srinath Reddy, the president of Public Health Foundation, a think tank, told Anadolu Agency.
The Health Ministry, however, has said that over 1.7 million vaccine doses will be sent to different states in the next three days.
A statement said the “Liberalised and Accelerated Phase 3 Strategy of COVID-19 vaccination” will be implemented from Saturday.
It added that the government has provided “nearly 16.37 crore [160 million] vaccine doses” to states for free, and there are more than 7.9 million vaccine doses still available with state authorities.
Despite the ministry’s claims, Reddy urged the government to halt the new phase of the immunization drive and stock up on vaccines.
“We must take a pause and focus on the 45-plus age group and build up our vaccine stocks as quickly as possible. Obviously, domestic manufacturers need time to ramp up output, so we must import and get in aid as many vaccines as possible,” he said.
“Once the government has taken stock of the situation, it can then gradually come down in the age groups, perhaps first from 45 to 35, then 35 to 25, and then 25 to 18, instead of trying to do it all at once.” (Anadolu)