Sat | Jun 12, 2021

India’s vaccination campaign falters due to lack of vaccines, new cases and deaths soar

Published:Sunday | May 9, 2021 | 11:28 AM
Family members pay last respect to their relative who died of COVID-19 before cremation by the River Ganges in Prayagraj, India, Saturday, May 8, 2021. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)

BENGALURU, India (AP) — Since India opened vaccinations to all adults this month, hoping to tame a disastrous coronavirus surge sweeping across the country, the pace of administering the shots has dropped with states saying they only have limited stock to give out.

Cases, meanwhile, are still rising at record pace in the world's second-most populous nation.

Alongside a slowdown in vaccinations, states have gone to court over oxygen shortages as hospitals struggle to treat a running line of COVID-19 patients.

On Sunday, India reported 403,738 confirmed cases, including 4,092 deaths.

Overall, India has over 22 million confirmed infections and 240,000 deaths.

Experts say both figures are undercounts.

India's Supreme Court said Saturday it would set up a national task force consisting of top experts and doctors to conduct an “oxygen audit” to determine whether supplies from the federal government were reaching states.

Complaints of oxygen shortages have dominated the top court recently, which stepped in earlier this week to make sure the federal government provided more medical oxygen to hospitals in the capital, New Delhi.

The country's massive vaccination drive kicked off sluggishly in January when cases were low and exports of vaccines were high, with 64 million doses going overseas.

But as infections started to rise in March and April, India's exports drastically slowed down so doses went to its own population.

So far, around 10% of India's population have received one shot while just under 2.5% have got both.

At its peak in early April, India was administering a record high of 3.5 million shots a day on average.

But this number has consistently shrunk since, reaching an average of 1.3 million shots a day over the past week.

Between April 6 and May 6, daily doses have dropped by 38%, even as cases have tripled and deaths have jumped sixfold, according to Bhramar Mukherjee, a biostatistician at the University of Michigan who has been tracking India's epidemic.

One reason for the drop in shots is that there are just not enough available, experts say.

Currently, India's two vaccine makers produce an estimated 70 million doses each month of the two approved shots — AstraZeneca, made by the Serum Institute of India, and another by Bharat Biotech.

Vaccine supply has remained nearly the same since the drive began in January, but the target population eligible has increased by threefold, said Chandrakant Lahariya, a health policy expert.

“In the beginning, India had far more assured supply available than the demand, but now the situation has reversed,” he added.

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