Warning that Maharashtra had only three days’ vaccine stock left, State Health Minister Rajesh Tope on Wednesday urged the Centre to expedite the delivery of vaccine doses to the State.
Speaking to reporters in Mumbai, Mr. Tope remarked that the State daily vaccination rate was the fastest in the country and said that Maharashtra needed a stable supply of at least 40 lakh doses of COVID-19 vaccines each week.
The State, which contributes to more than 65% of the country’s active cases, has been reporting unprecedented single-day surges of over 50,000 cases in the past few days.
“At present, we just have 14 lakh vaccine doses which will get over in the next three days. We’ve asked for 40 lakh more vaccine doses per week. At the moment, Maharashtra is reeling under a severe shortage with many districts and vaccination centers reporting that they have no doses to give,” said the Health Minister.
Mr. Tope also spoke of the various demands he made to Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan during a two-hour video conferencing with health ministers of nine States on Tuesday evening.
“Right from day one, I have been urging the Centre to keep up its supply of vaccines so that we may be able to carry out inoculation drives efficiently. The only way to control this pandemic is to boost immunity and create antibodies by significantly ramping up vaccination. I have told the Union Health Minister that Maharashtra is only state which has stringently followed ICMR rules and is strictly following ‘T3’ [test, treat, track] principle. Despite opposition of so many traders, we have tightened norms considerably in the State,” he said.
In a jibe at Union Minister Prakash Javadekar’s earlier remarks that Maharashtra was not utilizing the vaccines given by the Centre, Mr. Tope said the State government had risen to the Minister’s ‘challenge’ as evident in his provocative statements.
“We have taken up this challenge. Each day we are carrying out an average 4.5 lakh vaccinations and propose to take this figure to 6 lakh. Today, we are forced to shut vaccination centers andare compelled to tell health workers to go home because we do not have sufficient doses,” Mr. Tope said.
At the same time, he clarified that while the Centre was not opposed to sending vaccines to Maharashtra, the speed of delivery was very slow.
“I would like to say that Mr. Harsh Vardhan is a soft-spoken and helpful person. I have urged him to pay attention to Maharashtra and expedite delivery of vaccine doses,” said Mr. Tope.
Observing that the majority of the new cases were in the 20-40 age group as these people were stepping out the most, Mr. Tope said that the State government had appraised the Centre of the pressing need for universal vaccination in order to bring down infectivity rates.
“I have urged the Union Health Minister to put delivery of vaccine doses to Maharashtra on a priority basis. While other states can wait for universal vaccination, it needs to be done first in Maharashtra which is witnessing alarming case spikes of 50,000 cases a day,” he said.
More than 85 lakh people in Maharashtra have been vaccinated so far since the roll-out of the inoculation drive.
Mr. Tope further warned private doctors to use Remdesivir injections rationally and not use them indiscriminately for the sole purpose of inflating patient bills.
Advocating increased communication with the National Center for Disease Control (NCDC), Mr. Tope said that the institute ought to inform the Maharashtra government of the precise nature of Covid-19 strain mutations that were being reported from certain parts of the State.
Addressing the issue of acute bed shortage across hospitals, the Health Minister said that even if there were some problems in bed availability in Mumbai and Pune, critical care beds were being increased in both areas as well as in Nashik and Nagpur districts.
“The BJ Medical College in Pune is increasing its bed capacity from 300 to 500, while Dalvi Hospital is adding 200 more beds. Likewise, Jumbo facilities in Baner and the College of Engineering Pune (CoEP), too, are shoring up their capacities in ICU and oxygen beds. Around 500 critical care beds will be added in private hospitals in Pune district,” Mr. Tope said.
He reiterated that parties should not indulge in politics at this time.
“The Chief Minister has personally called opposition party leaders and they have assured them of their cooperation. While there is anger among people, they need to understand the reasons why we are tightening norms,” Mr. Tope said, stressing that instead of misleadingly using ‘lockdown’, the phrase ‘break-the-chain’ ought to be used to refer to the new curbs.
Maharashtra has been given the highest number of vaccines in the country: Fadnavis
Meanwhile, former Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s Leader of Opposition in the Legislative Assembly, hit out at Mr. Tope, remarking that Maharashtra had enough vaccine stock and that the ministers of the Uddhav Thackeray-led Maha Vikas Aghadi government ought to directly resolve any issues with the Centre instead of speaking to the media.
“The allegation made by ministers and leaders in the State government regarding dwindling vaccine stocks is not true. Maharashtra has been given the highest number of vaccines in the country by the Central Government. These things need to be discussed with the Centre instead of talking to the media,” Mr. Fadnavis said.
He further alleged that the ruling government had imposed the fresh restrictions without thinking.
“I have met people from 17 different associations so far whose businesses have been severely hit. While we fully support the government regarding measures to curb Covid-19, the new restrictions are tantamount to a complete lockdown. The common man, including small traders, is being bullied,” Mr. Fadnavis said, warning that the ruling government could face an outbreak of public ire if it failed to resolve the situation.