How badly are India's states hit by vaccine shortage? Acutely, going by the frequency of frantic requests sent to the Centre from Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.
In the last two months, the two Telugu states had together sent seven reminders to Union government demanding vaccine stock. While Telangana sent five reminders out of which one was in writing, Andhra Pradesh has sent two in writing.
How did the states warn the Centre?
SOS Sent in March
In the second week of March this year, Telangana’s Health minister Etela Ranjender made a call to the Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan. The matter was serious as the state was nearing the end of the vaccination drive for those above 60-years.
“Telangana government told the Central minister that the state could run out of vaccine when the next phase of vaccination begins. It was based on a simple calculation,” a state government official said. The state which has a population of 3.5 crore people had set a vaccination target of 1 lakh jabs per day. To run the vaccination drive starting April 1, it would have needed 30 lakh for 30 days.
The second call was made shortly after, a senior government official told The Quint. “In the second call, the health minister informed the Centre that the state will have to stop the vaccination drive if the Centre fails to make equitable distribution. In April first and second weeks two other calls were made to which Centre offered assurances but did not deliver,” the official said.
Telangana’s stalk of vaccines dipped to 5.66 lakh doses on 10 April, owing to the demand.
The state’s chief secretary Somesh Kumar wrote to the Union health secretary Rajesh Bhushan on 10 April, requesting 30 lakh doses. By then, the state had planned to ramp up the number of shots per day to 2 lakh jabs.
On 12 April, the Centre could provide the state with just 3.6 lakh doses. That is just 10 per cent of the ask. In his letter to the Centre, Telangana’s Somesh Kumar wrote, “I would request you to urgently provide at least 30 lakh doses of vaccine to Telangana for the next 15 days”.
AP Demanded 1 Crore Vaccines
Meanwhile, Telangana’s neighbouring state Andhra Pradesh too had made a calculated demand in March. According to a senior health official, the state wanted 1 crore doses of vaccine. “This was calculated taking into account the population above 45-years. The state had informed the Centre well in advance, in March, that 1 crore doses will be needed,” the official told The Quint.
The request, however, went unanswered. On 26 March, the state wrote to the Centre requesting for immediate release of vaccine doses. “The state had planned to partake in the tika utsav promoted by the Centre. To participate in the same we would have needed the doses and there was dire shortfall. So again, a request was sent out to the Union health ministry,” the official rued.
The Centre ignored both the pleas, the official alleged. The matter came to light only when the Chief Minister wrote to the Centre on 9 April.
Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy in his letter dated 9 April requested the Centre to release 25 lakh doses of the vaccine. So far, the state was granted 4.4 lakh doses. In Andhra Pradesh the first two days of tika utsav were derailed on account of the shortage.
The state government had planned to cover 1,145 villages and 259 urban centres during the jab fest.
Health Officials Weigh In
In Andhra Pradesh and Telangana several health centres have been turning away people who need vaccination.
“The worst affected are those who have received the first shot of the vaccine. Such people are angered and are waiting in long queues. The state government is answerable to the people but the Centre is not able to cater to our demands,” the Telangana health officer said.
As of 12 April, the state has administered the first dose of vaccine to 19.79 lakh people. The second dose was administered to just 3.09 lakh people.
In Andhra Pradesh, a health official said that the demand is high. “People are no longer worried about the side effects of the vaccine. They need the jab and the number of people turning up at health facilities are high even though the supply is low,” he said. Another official rued, “The Centre is under pressure now because the state has made its demand public. It is matter of fair treatment now so available doses are being provided to states”.
In Andhra Pradesh the test positivity rate is as high as 6.01 and in Telangana it is 2.98. However, Telangana High Court had asked the state government to conduct more RT-PCR tests as the state is mostly dependent on rapid antigen testing.
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