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Sunday, April 18, 2021

‘Utterly baseless’: Harsh Vardhan after Maharashtra govt raises alarm bells over Covid vaccine shortage

The Union Health Minister's response came hours after the Maharashtra government sounded alarm bells over Covid vaccine shortage and urged the central government to supply additional doses.

By: Express Web Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: April 7, 2021 8:49:46 pm
Covaxin, Coronavirus vaccine, covid vaccine, dr harsh vardhan, covid, covid vaccine, covaxin clinical trial, indian express newsUnion Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan. (File)

Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan Wednesday hit out at the Maharashtra government hours after the latter said it was running short of Covid-19 vaccines and urged the central government to supply additional doses.

In a strongly-worded response, Vardhan said allegations of vaccine shortage are “utterly baseless”. “This is nothing but an attempt to divert attention from Maharashtra government’s repeated failures to control the spread of pandemic,” he said.

“The inability of Maharashtra government to act responsibly is beyond comprehension. To spread panic among the people is to compound the folly further. Vaccine supplies are being monitored on a real-time basis, and State governments are being apprised regularly about it,” Vardhan added.

The Health Minister further said that the “lackadaisical attitude” of the state government has singularly bogged down the entire country’s efforts to fight 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,” he said.

“It is shocking to see how the state Government is putting Maharashtrians in danger by letting people escape institutional quarantine mandate for the sake of their personal Vasuli,” he continued. “Overall, as the state has lurched from one crisis to another, it seems as if the state leadership is happily sleeping at the wheels.”

Earlier in the day, the Maharashtra government said that it had 13 lakh doses of Covaxin and Covishield in stock, which according to its estimates would be exhausted in three days.

Vardhan also reacted to the demands of political leaders including Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and his Delhi counterpart Arvind Kejriwal’s request to open up vaccination to everyone above the age of 18.

“The primary aim of vaccination is to reduce mortality among the most vulnerable people, and enable the society to beat the pandemic,” he said. “So long as the supply of vaccines remains limited, there is no option but to prioritize. This is also the established practice around the world, and is well known to all State governments.”

Further listing out vaccination statistics amongst frontline workers in Delhi and Maharashtra, Vardhan asked, “Doesn’t it seem evident that these states are trying to divert attention from their poor vaccination efforts by just continuously shifting the goal-posts? Politicizing such a public health issue is a damning indictment of certain political leaders who should know better.”

Vardhan said when states ask to open up vaccine supplies to everyone over 18, we must presume that they have done saturation coverage of healthcare workers, frontline workers and senior citizens.

“But the facts are altogether different,” he said while pointing out that Maharashtra has vaccinated just only 86 per cent of health workers with the first dose, while the equivalent numbers for Delhi and Punjab are 72 per cent and 64 per cent.

On the other hand, 10 Indian states/UTs have done more than 90 per cent, he added. The minister further said Maharashtra has vaccinated just 41 per cent of healthcare workers with the second dose, while the same for Delhi and Punjab are 41 per cent and 27 per cent, though there are 12 Indian states/UTs that have done more than 60 per cent.

About Chhattisgarh, he said regular comments have been made by leaders from the state “that are intended to spread misinformation and panic on vaccination”. “I would like to humbly state that it would be better if the state government focusses its energies on ramping up their health infrastructure rather than on petty politicking,” Vardhan said while flagging “disproportionately higher number of deaths in the last 2-3 weeks” in the state. He also said that the state’s testing remains heavily dependent on rapid antigen tests which is not a wise strategy.

On Tuesday, India recorded the highest one-day spike of COVID-19 cases at 1.07 lakh even as the Centre cautioned that the next four weeks are “very very critical” and sought people’s participation to control the second wave of the pandemic.

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