NEW DELHI: India’s eastern state of Odisha might have to stop its coronavirus vaccination drive for four days because of a shortage of doses, according to a letter reviewed by Reuters, even as overall inoculations hit a record on Tuesday.
India’s COVID-19 case load has risen to 11.69 million amid a second surge of infections, leading many states to ask the government to replenish vaccine stocks so they can cover more people faster. India has reported the third-highest total of coronavirus cases after the United States and Brazil.
India, the world’s biggest vaccine maker, has donated or sold more than 60 million doses to 76 countries, compared with nearly 48 million doses given at home, leading to criticisms of its vaccine diplomacy. If supply tightens at home, many countries reliant on India for doses could also suffer.
The sudden surge in demand is piling pressure on vaccine makers the Serum Institute of India (SII) and Bharat Biotech to boost production. SII has already delayed further shipments of the AstraZeneca shot to the United Kingdom, Brazil, Saudi Arabia and Morocco.
In a letter to the Indian Ministry of Health and Family Welfare dated March 22, P.K. Mohapatra, Odisha’s additional chief secretary for health, warned the state only had enough doses to run its vaccination drive until March 30. It is expecting another batch of the AstraZeneca vaccine, locally known as Covishield, only on April 2.
“We will have no vaccines for 4 days,” he said. “Hence, adequate doses of Covishield vaccine may be supplied in time so as to continue uninterrupted vaccination drive in our state. Your urgent attention is drawn to the above issue.”
Odisha has nearly 44 million people and its capital Bhubaneswar is located about 360 km (224 miles) southwest of Kolkata.
The federal health ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Odisha’s letter.
Despite the looming vaccination slowdown in Odhisa, overall injections have climbed to a daily record, with the health ministry reporting 3.2 million doses were administered in the past 24 hours. India launched its campaign in the middle of January, later than the United States, Britain and China.
India’s total vaccinations are the third highest in the world after the US and China, though per capita it is ranked lower, according to the Our World in Data https://ourworldindata.org/covid-vaccinations website.
The country wants to vaccinate 300 million of its 1.35 billion people by August.
Other Indian states, including Rajasthan, have also flagged a supply crunch, even though the federal government has for now advised limiting vaccinations to the elderly and people above 45 suffering from other health conditions.
Many states have sought to expand their vaccination campaigns to cover all adults because infections have risen since late February after the economy fully reopened and as most people still go without masks and flout social distancing advice.
Some states have also administered doses to a small number of people outside the prioritized groups to avoid vaccine wastage as vials need to be consumed within four hours after opening.
About 6.5% of coronavirus vaccine doses in India are going to waste, the health ministry said last week, making it vital for health workers to coordinate the flow of recipients.
India reported 40,715 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, with its richest state Maharashtra, home to the country’s financial capital of Mumbai, accounting for more than 60% of the total. Deaths rose by 199 to 160,166.