Vaccine supply difficulties in India hit national inoculation drive

State chiefs concede inability to deliver on programme promised by prime minister Modi

A newly-opened Covid-19 centre in Mumbai. Photograph: Divyakant Solanki/EPA

A newly-opened Covid-19 centre in Mumbai. Photograph: Divyakant Solanki/EPA


Several Indian states have declared their inability to broaden the scheduled countrywide inoculation drive from Saturday onwards in an attempt to counter the country’s second devastating coronavirus pandemic wave.

Even as 25.4 million Indians aged between 18 and 45 registered online in anticipation of the mass vaccination programme, announced by prime minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist BJP government on April 19th, numerous state chief ministers conceded their inability to meet this commitment.

They said they did not have the vaccine stocks needed to make good on Mr Modi’s pledge to try to immunise a majority of the country’s population of more than 1.3 billion.

India reported 386,452 new virus cases on Friday and 3,500 fatalities, taking the official number of Covid-19 deaths to almost 210,000. Experts, however, estimate India’s actual infection rate to be 10-15 times higher and fatalities even greater, as testing remains exceptionally inadequate.

“India’s vaccine policy is messy to say the least, and has caused all round discomfort,” Malini Aisola of India Drug Action Network told NDTV news. Vaccine supplies, she said, were not going to stabilise for several months despite India being the world’s single largest vaccine producer.

So far, only 24.5 million Indians – or 1.8 per cent of the world’s second most populous country – have been fully inoculated.

Hospitals, morgues, crematoriums and burial grounds continued on Friday to be under siege from the pandemic, despite repeated claims by the BJP administration that the frightening situation was being adequately managed. The paucity of hospital beds for tens of thousands of virus-infected people endured, as did supplies of oxygen and medicines that were freely available on the black market at astronomical prices.

New cremation grounds

Cities across India including Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore were hastily erecting new cremation grounds to prevent thousands from being immolated on roads, footpaths and public parks.

Medical experts expect the crisis to worsen over the next week, with new cases projected to exceed 450,000 each day until the end of May at least.

Leading surgeon Devi Prasad Shetty told the Press Trust of India (PTI) that between 1½ and two million people were being infected daily, but not being tested. Of these, about 5 per cent, he said, would need hospitalisation, irrespective of their age. This meant there was a need for an additional 500,000 intensive-care unit beds, 150,000 doctors and 200,000 nurses and related medical staff.

“While most newspaper headlines have been about the lack of oxygen for patients in ICUs, I am having sleepless nights for the next headline that is going to be that patients are dying because there are not enough doctors or nurses to take care of them,” said Dr Shetty, who runs 21 specialist hospitals across India.

At present India has about 80,000 ICU beds, which are fully occupied, 1.2 million doctors, of whom only 370,000 are specialists, and 3.07 million nurses, midwives and paramedics – some 43 per cent less than the number recommended by the World Health Organisation.