Demand for vaccines could exceed supply in India despite export pause: expert

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged citizens to sign up for the country’s vaccination program

India’s fight against a new wave of coronavirus infections is plagued by vaccine shortages in several states and cities, including the financial capital, Mumbai.

The country’s worst-hit state Maharashtra has only three days of vaccines in stock, Health Minister Rajesh Tope told reporters on Wednesday, even as the country reported a record high of more than 115,000 new vaccines. cases per day. Maharashtra alone accounts for some 55,000 infections. Other states, including Andhra Pradesh, are also running out of fire, according to the Economic Times.

The sharp rise in infections from early February, when the country reported around 11,000 infections per day, forced states to reinstate movement restrictions and other restrictions. Maharashtra has halted all non-essential services, ordered private businesses to work from home, and closed malls and restaurants until April.

Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan released a statement Wednesday in which he dismissed responsibility for the shortages and said some states, including Maharashtra, “were trying to distract from their poor efforts of vaccination by continuously shifting the objectives ”.

For Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose party is battling five national elections, the ongoing health crisis could continue to damage its international image after India curbs vaccine exports this month as the second wave Covid was on the rise. The renewed restrictions are also sparking public anger over the government’s inability to get ahead of the virus despite a lull of several months.

After the country shipped or donated more than 60 million doses of the Covid vaccine, India announced last month that it would slow its exports to focus on its own needs. The world’s largest vaccine maker, the Serum Institute of India, is a major supplier of Covax, a program whereby 2 billion doses of vaccine are supposed to be distributed to middle and low-income countries, many of which do not. can not afford to sign purchases. contracts on their own.

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But domestic demand is expected to exceed supply despite these export brakes.

Amid the shortage, Prime Minister Modi announced on Thursday that he had received his second vaccine in New Delhi and urged citizens to sign up for the country’s immunization program.

Out of stock supplies

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For now, a month’s supply from the two vaccines approved in India only lasts 17 days at peak demand, ignoring existing stocks, according to Abhishek Sharma, Mumbai-based health analyst at Jefferies. .

“As vaccination accelerates across India, we expect demand to exceed supply in the coming months,” Sharma wrote in a report on Tuesday. “Approved vaccines are increasing their capacity, but slowly.

Maharashtra only has 1.4 million doses of the vaccine left, Tope said, adding that the administration has asked the unity government to arrange for at least 4 million doses per week to bring the disease under control. growing state pandemic.

“Many of our vaccination centers are facing shortages and have had to be closed due to unavailability of vaccines,” he said. “Health workers at many centers are being forced to fire people saying the vaccine has not yet arrived.”

Yet medical groups, public health experts and business leaders have called on the government to fully open up the vaccination campaign to all age groups as the second wave continues to develop. The country currently only allows people over 45 to be vaccinated. For a country the size of India and its population density, restrictions on movement are likely to provide only a temporary respite.

No locking

India is primarily relying on its inoculation campaign to curb the second wave, said Charles Clift, a senior researcher at the Center on Global Health Program at Chatham House in London. “Locking in effectively in this environment is rather difficult, so they have to rely heavily on the vaccine to gain control.”

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The government has also decided to allow public and private workplaces to run vaccination campaigns from April 11, according to an April 6 letter, which has not yet been public, and which has been seen by Bloomberg. News. A spokesperson for the Ministry of Health could not be reached for comment.

The number of cases in the country now stands at 12.8 million – behind Brazil and the United States – with the new wave of the virus threatening the nascent growth of Asia’s third-largest economy, which had collapsed into a historic recession last year after Prime Minister Modi’s strict nationwide lockdown.

India’s inability to quickly examine Covid-19 samples for new variants is also likely to hamper its ability to contain new outbreaks, with scientists warning that delays could damage everything, from the effectiveness of the vaccines to effective hospital treatments. The country has tested less than 1% of its positive samples, according to government data.

“We are also observing that people suddenly get worse in home isolation, and we suspect that certain viral mutations or strains may be the cause,” Tope said. “There is a need to identify these different strains that are detected in Maharashtra” and provide new treatment protocols to states.

– With the help of Bibhudatta Pradhan.

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