India’s devastating COVID-19 surge accelerated further on Saturday with more than 400,000 new cases in 24 hours as vaccinations opened to all adults despite a shortage of injections.
Two months ago, the Health Minister said India was in the “end game” of the pandemic because it was sending millions of vaccines abroad, but now exports have stopped and people are desperate for vaccination.
A crowd of about 100 people formed outside a hospital in Delhi on Saturday – one of the few to offer photos to people under 45.
“There are so many people who get sick … so we just wanted to get here as soon as possible,” one of those waiting, Aadya Mehta, 25, told AFP.
Until now, only “first-line” workers such as medical personnel, people over the age of 45, and people with pre-existing illnesses have received the AstraZeneca or Covaxin injections.
But even this more modest program has stumbled, with some areas running out of jabs and others throwing them out due to lack of demand, in part because some people are afraid to leave home during this recent wave.
About 150 million shots have been administered to date, representing 11.5 percent of the population of 1.3 billion people. Only 25 million have had two doses.
With the expansion of the rollout to all adults, about 600 million more people are now eligible for vaccination, but many states said they lack supplies.
Millions of young people who are terrified of the current situation and desperate for vaccination are registered on the government’s digital platform.
Very few of them have gotten an appointment, and only half a dozen of the 28 Indian states have begun to vaccinate people under 45, and in many cases only on a symbolic scale.
“Half of my family is 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 vaccinate younger people.
“It won’t protect us completely, but it will ensure that even if we get infected, we’ll recover,” she said.
Further confusion has been created by the government’s decision to ask states and private hospitals to order their own supplies of vaccines.
“We contacted the Serum Institute of India, which has said they will not be able to deliver doses until after six months,” DS Rana, chairman of Sir Ganga Ram Hospital in Delhi, told the Hindustan Times.
C.K. Bakshi, a doctor at a government hospital, said there was “no problem with supplies” and vaccinated nearly 300 people a day. But it didn’t have government permission to prick under the age of 45, she told AFP.
In Kolkata, Rupak Barua, president of the Association of Hospitals of Eastern India (AHEI), told AFP that “there is confusion.”
“Private hospitals have had to return all of their stock of vaccines to the government,” he said.
“The whole thing looks like a confused elephant right now,” said T. Jacob John, a retired clinical virology professor 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 any,” John told AFP.
He and other experts say that given the shortages and its colossal population, India should have a much more targeted policy of concentrating vaccinations in hot spots.
Gujarat is one of the few states to have said they would, with Prime Minister Vijay Rupani saying on Friday that vaccinations for the over 18s would only take place in the 10 worst affected districts.
“(We) believe that once this (additional) vaccination drive begins as designed, it will gradually stabilize,” Lav Agarwal, a health ministry official, told reporters Friday.