India Opens Vaccine Drive to All Adults as Cases Surge

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  • Bloomberg Quicktake: Now published this video item, entitled “India Opens Vaccine Drive to All Adults as Cases Surge” – below is their description.

    Apocalyptic scenes unfolded in India as a second wave of the coronavirus epidemic set daily global records for infections, overwhelming hospitals and crematoriums and prompting offers of help from governments around the world.

    President Joe Biden set out his agenda for a transformation in the role of government in the lives of Americans through trillions of dollars in spending in a speech to Congress on the eve of his 100th day in office.

    And allies of French President Emmanuel Macron are becoming nervous about the potential challenge of far-right leader Marine Le Pen at next year’s elections.

    When India launched its Covid-19 vaccination drive in mid-January, the chances of success looked high: It could produce more shots than any country in the world and had decades of experience inoculating pregnant women and babies in rural areas.

    “Our preparation has been such that vaccine is fast reaching every corner of the country,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Jan. 22. “On the world’s biggest need today, we are completely self-reliant. Not just that, India is also helping out many countries with vaccines.”

    Just over three months later, that initial promise has evaporated and the government’s plans are in disarray. India has fully vaccinated less than 2% of its 1.3 billion-strong population, inoculation centers across the country say they’re running short of doses and exports have all but stopped. Rather than building protection, the South Asian nation is setting daily records for new infections as a second wave overwhelms hospitals and crematoriums.

    Modi’s response has been to abruptly shift strategy on vaccines and supplies. Initially the federal government negotiated prices with manufacturers, distributed them to states and restricted them to priority groups like the elderly and healthcare workers. Starting May 1, everyone over 18 is eligible for a vaccine while state governments and private hospitals can purchase doses directly from manufacturers for people from 18 to 45 years — triggering a desperate free-for-all rush to secure shots from an already strapped market.

    His government says the new rules make “pricing, procurement, eligibility and administration of vaccines open and flexible.” Health experts and officials in opposition-controlled states say the plan passes the buck to regional governments rather than addressing the pandemic directly. Widening the rollout of shots is also questionable when India is running low on stocks, with developers like Serum Institute of India Ltd. saying the U.S. has been hoarding ingredients and new supplies could potentially be months away.

    ‘No Discussion’

    “There was no discussion with state governments before asking states to procure vaccines on their own,” said T.S. Singh Deo, the health minister of Chhattisgarh state. “As a state we will have to buy vaccines from the open market, severely denting our finances.”

    Given India’s growing strategic importance, its wave of infections risks not only the fledgling recovery in Asia’s third-largest economy, but attempts to tamp down Covid-19 and recuperate globally. The nation is now the main hotspot of the pandemic, despite being home to the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer.

    “The vaccination program really should be a big focus,” said Raina MacIntyre, a professor of biosecurity at the University of New South Wales in Sydney. “Getting people vaccinated will also reduce the selective pressure for emergence of new strains.”

    While it’s easy to pinpoint now, the Modi government missed chances to concentrate on supporting vaccine production and scale up its decrepit health system. An over-reliance on an app-based technology made it hard for its poor and rural citizens to sign up, and Modi’s plan didn’t utilize India’s million-strong army of trained health workers — the Accredited Social Health Activists, or ASHAs — to reach its vast rural hinterland, a strategy that made its polio vaccination such a success.

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