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India’s devastating COVID-19 surge accelerated Saturday, with more than 400,000 new cases in 24 hours, as vaccinations opened to all adults despite the lack of shots.
Two months ago, the health minister said India was in the “end game” of the pandemic by sending millions of vaccines overseas, but now exports have stopped and people are desperate to be vaccinated.
On Saturday, a crowd of around 100 people formed in front of a hospital in Delhi – one of the few who took pictures of people under 45 years of age.
“There are so many people who get sick … so we just wanted to be here as soon as possible,” one of those waiting, Aadya Mehta, 25, told AFP.
So far, only “front-line” workers such as medical personnel, people over 45 and people with pre-existing illnesses have received the AstraZeneca or Covaxin shots.
But even this more modest program has stalled. Some areas are running out of bumps and others are throwing them away due to lack of demand, also because some people are afraid to leave during the recent surge.
Around 150 million shots have been administered to date, representing 11.5 percent of the population of 1.3 billion people. Only 25 million had two doses.
“There is confusion”
With the rollout extended to all adults, around 600 million people can now be vaccinated, but many states have reported insufficient stocks.
Millions of younger people are afraid of the current situation and are dying to be vaccinated in order to register on the government’s digital platform.
But very few of them were appointed, and only half a dozen of India’s 28 states started vaccinating people under the age of 45, and in many cases just a token scale.
“Half of my family are positive, so everyone wanted us to be vaccinated,” data scientist Megha Srivastava, 35, told AFP outside the Max Clinic, one of three private hospitals in the Indian capital that vaccinates younger people.
“It won’t protect us completely, but it will make sure we recover even if we get infected,” she said.
Further confusion was created by the government’s decision to require states and private hospitals to self-procure vaccine supplies.
“We contacted the Serum Institute of India, which has announced that it will not be able to give doses for six months,” DS Rana, chairman of Sir Ganga Ram Hospital in Delhi, told the Hindustan Times newspaper.
CK Bakshi, a doctor at a government hospital, said there was “no problem with care” and vaccinated nearly 300 people a day. But there wasn’t government permission to bump under 45, she told AFP.
In Calcutta, Rupak Barua, president of the Association of Hospitals in East India (AHEI), told AFP that “there is confusion”.
“Private hospitals have had to return all of their vaccine inventory to the government,” he said.
“It looks like a confused elephant to me right now,” said T Jacob John, a retired professor of clinical virology at Christian Medical College Vellore.
“Do you want to control the epidemic, save lives, or both? If you want both, you need a huge amount of vaccines. And we don’t have it,” John told AFP.
He and other experts say that given the shortage and its colossal population, India should have a much more targeted policy of focusing vaccinations on hotspots.
Gujarat is one of the few states that has announced this. Prime Minister Vijay Rupani said Friday that vaccinations for those over the age of 18 would only take place in the 10 most affected districts.
“(We) believe that once this (additional) vaccination drive starts as planned, it will gradually stabilize,” Health Department official Lav Agarwal told reporters on Friday.
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