Amid demands by states for increasing vaccine quota, Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan on Thursday said such calls arouse “narrow political passion among the masses which harm the whole-of-government approach to tackle the pandemic".
He made these remarks during his interaction with health ministers and principal secretaries or additional chief secretaries of Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan and Delhi.
On the common demand from several health ministers to increase the quota of vaccines for their states, Vardhan explained the factors that have shaped the vaccination policy, the health ministry said in a statement.
“88 per cent of the fatalities were in the age group of 45+ which prompted us to open the vaccination to that group in a gradual manner. However, states depending on their own situation can opt for vaccination of other age groups through direct procurement now. The lack of availability of a second dose has been taken into consideration when guidelines for reserving 70 per cent of vaccines were framed," he was quoted as saying.
He also informed about the monthly production capacity of the vaccines and reassured the states that vaccines will be distributed equitably.
Production capacity is being steadily ramped up and will touch 8 crore doses by May and 9 crore by June, the statement said.
“He stated that this demand for more vaccines from state leadership arouses narrow political passion among the masses which harms the ‘whole-of-government’ approach to tackle the pandemic. The state health ministers requested for the formation of a common policy of procurement of vaccines from foreign manufacturers," the statement said.
Vardhan said that under the Liberalised Pricing and Accelerated National COVID-19 Vaccination Strategy, along with free vaccination under government channel, states can use the non-government channel to have a holistic vaccination coverage of their population.
Every month, 50 per vent of the vaccine doses of every manufacturer would be available for direct procurement by the state governments and private hospitals while the Centre would continue to procure its share of 50 per cent of the vaccines and continue to make it available to the states totally free of cost as was being done earlier.
He also pointed out that various measures are being taken by the Centre to enhance vaccine availability in the country. Vaccines for COVID-19 have been developed and are being manufactured in foreign countries. Emergency approval for restricted use by USFDA, EMA, UK MHRA, PMDA Japan or listed in WHO (Emergency Use Listing) may be granted emergency use approval in India.
During the meeting, Vardhan also noted that the B.1.617 variant of SARS-CoV-2 has contributed to the rise of cases in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Delhi and advised all the states to regularly send samples to INSACOG labs for tracking of emerging variants of the virus.
He suggested steps taken by the experts to curb the spread, adding “the strategy remains the same irrespective of the variants".
He also stressed on the continued need to follow COVID appropriate behaviour along with renewed and stringent focus on containment measures for addressing the present surge, the health ministry statement said.
Vardhan advised the states to have a long-term planning to tackle COVID-19. Many states have been fighting the pandemic for more than a year which has gradually exhausted the medical workforce and the public health machinery, the statement said.
The minister suggested that states take a pro-active role in ensuring the rotation of workforce and their regular counselling regarding their duty.
Health ministers of Maharashtra (Rajesh Tope), Karnataka (K Sudhakar), Kerala (K Shailaja), Tamil Nadu (M Subramanian), Rajasthan (Raghu Sharma) and Delhi (Satyendra Jain) virtually attended the meeting, the statement said.
Dr Sujeet K Singh, Director NCDC, presented the epidemiological findings and a granular analysis of the COVID trajectory in the states. He pointed out that the apparent shift of COVID-19 towards lower age groups is driven by the fact that higher age groups have been vaccinated in considerable proportion by now.
He suggested ramping up of testing and vaccination in peri-urban areas as the spread is now going to peri-urban and rural places. He cautioned against the spread of the infection to the rural areas, as the health infrastructure in the rural regions of the country is not adequately equipped to deal with the rising number of cases, the statement said.
He also urged the states to send samples for genome sequencing to identify the role of variants in severity and transmission, it stated.
Vardhan said “although in the last 24 hours, 3.62 lakh new cases were registered, a net decline of 6,426 cases was recorded in the active caseload. At the moment we have over 37,10,525 active cases. Unfortunately we have lost 4,120 lives in the last 24 hours."
Detailing on the performance of states, he noted that Maharashtra continuously struggling from COVID-19 second wave since January although the decline of cases in Mumbai and Pune is significant.
At the beginning, only few districts of Vidarbha region were a matter of concern in January. However, now 30 districts are affected including Kolhapur, Satara and Beed registering high transmission rate.
Similarly, Ajmer, Jodhpur and Bhilwara in Rajasthan, Ernakulam, Thrissur, Mallapuram, Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala, Bengaluru (Urban), Mysuru, Bellary, Tumkur in Karnataka, Chennai, Coimbatore, Chengalpattu, Madurai, Thiruvallur in Tamil Nadu were also flagged as districts of concern, the statement said.
While Bengaluru contributes nearly half the active cases in Karnataka, in Madurai 1.48 per cent and in Chennai 1.32 per cent case fatality rate is higher than that of the state and the country.