The Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan on Wednesday lashed out at Maharashtra and some other states, stating that the complaints raised on shortage of COVID-19 vaccine in the states are baseless. In a strongly-worded statement, the Minister rubbished Maharashtra government's claim of shortage of vaccines as "utterly baseless", and said the "lackadaisical" attitude of the state government has "singularly bogged down" the entire country's efforts to fight the virus.
Maharashtra has the highest number of active COVID-19 patients in the country. On Wednesday, the state recorded the highest daily count of 59,907 coronavirus positive cases, taking the total active cases to be 5.01 lakh and more than 322 fatalities were reported pushing the total death toll to 56,652, the state health department said.
Maharashtra and Delhi are among the states demanding that the age limit for vaccination should be relaxed. From April 1, 2021, those above 45 years are eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccination.
The Union Ministerâ€™s sharp counter-offensive came hours after Maharashtra Health Minister Rajesh Tope said many inoculation centres in Maharashtra are being shut due to a shortage of the coronavirus vaccines and that the state now has 14 lakh doses which would only last for three days.
"The inability of the Maharashtra government to act responsibly is beyond comprehension. To spread panic among the people is to compound the folly further. Vaccine supplies are being monitored on a real-time basis, and state governments are being apprised regularly about it. Allegations of vaccine shortage are utterly baseless," he said.
Noting that Maharashtra's "testing is not up to the mark and their contact tracing leaves a lot to be desired", the Union Minister said statements made by public representatives in the state about the shortage of vaccines were "nothing but an attempt to divert attention from repeated failures to control the spread of pandemic."
Noting that the most concerning of all are the statements being made by a section of political leaders asking to open up vaccination to everyone above the age of 18, he said the primary aim of vaccination is to reduce mortality among the most vulnerable people, and enable the society to beat the pandemic.
"So long as the supply of vaccines remains limited, there is no option but to prioritize," he added.
Vardhan said,"the state Government in fact refused to use Covaxin despite it being given Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) by the Drug Controller of India. Not only this, by its actions, the leaders of the state government have the dubious distinction of being perhaps the only government in the world to have incited vaccine hesitancy."
The Minister further said Maharashtra has vaccinated just 41% of healthcare workers with the second dose, while the same for Delhi and Punjab are 41% and 27% respectively, though there are 12 Indian states/UTs that have done more than 60%.
Among frontline workers, Vardhan said Maharashtra has vaccinated only 73% with first dose. Equivalent numbers for Delhi and Punjab are 71% and 65% respectively. There are five Indian states/UTs that have already done more than 85%.
Vaccination of frontline workers with second does for Maharashtra is at 41% while for Delhi and Punjab, these numbers are 22% and 20% respectively. There are six Indian states/UTs that have done more than 45% the Minister said.
He further said that when it comes to senior citizens, Maharashtra has vaccinated just 25%, Delhi has vaccinated 30 per cent and Punjab has vaccinated only 13%. "There are 4 states/UTs that have already vaccinated more than 50%.
"Doesn't it seem evident that these states are trying to divert attention from their poor vaccination efforts by just continuously shifting the goal-posts? Politicizing such a public health issue is a damning indictment of certain political leaders who should know better," Vardhan said.
He further said the Union government regularly counselled the Maharashtra state government, made them available all resources and sent central teams for help.
"However, the lack of efforts of the part of the state government is now clearly visible and come to haunt us all," he said.
He further said the Maharashtra government needs to do a lot more to control the pandemic and the Central Government will help them in all possible ways.
"But focusing all their energies on playing politics and spreading lies to create panic is not going to help the people of Maharashtra," Vardhan said.