Politics over vaccines has heated up in Andhra Pradesh with arch-rivals – Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy and Telugu Desam Party supremo N Chandrababu Naidu – trading charges against each other, even as the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths continue to mount. After a tragic incident of 11 COVID-19 patients dying in Tirupati and nearly 30 deaths across Andhra Pradesh, all for want of oxygen in the last few days, there is an intense war of words between the two major political parties with the TDP supremo saying the government did not care for the common man. But while the war of words is gaining heat, what is definitely on the slowdown is the action on the ground to tackle the pandemic.
Chief Minister Jagan Mohan Reddy took notice of the ghastly Tirupati incident and worked phones to get hold of an oxygen tanker from Sirperumburur in Tamil Nadu and rushed it to Tirupati to save whatever lives the hospital could, averting a bigger tragedy. But the damage had already been done. Scenes outside the hospital in Tirupati were heartrending and the images sparked anger among the people, and they vented against the authorities.
Reports from different parts of Andhra Pradesh said there were complaints of oxygen shortages from all the 13 districts. Delays in distribution networks are also cited as a reason for these shortages, but mainly logistics issues and unavailability of oxygen in Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu remain a matter of concern. In Andhra Pradesh there are few manufacturers of medical oxygen — Rashtriya Ispat Nigam Limited (RINL) (or Vizag steel plant), Ellen Berries in Visakhapatnam, and Liquinox at Srikakulam.
Opposition TDP jumped into the issue and launched an attack against the government on the oxygen shortage, but soon it turned into personal attacks between the two top leaders of the state, with the BJP standing on the sidelines and getting in a punch or two against both of them.
Former Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu and his son Lokesh, blasted the Chief Minister for not spending enough and making efforts to secure vaccines needed for the vaccination programme, at a time when other states had thrown open their treasuries to purchase vaccines in the open market.
“Jagan is spending only a few crores of rupees and is doing precious little to secure either oxygen, lifesaving drugs or vaccines,” Naidu alleged, and said the situation called for a proactive approach rather than merely writing letters to people.
This was countered strongly by Andhra Pradesh Civil Supplies Minister Kodali Nani who said, “It is wrong to doubt our intentions. We have already spent Rs 1,600 crore to purchase vaccines, but these are held up due to production-related issues.”
Getting into a verbal duel with Naidu, Jagan Mohan Reddy made a startling accusation against Naidu that he was “influencing his relatives who own the Hyderabad vaccine making company – Bharat Biotech – to deny vaccines to Andhra Pradesh on a priority basis.” A charge that was vehemently denied and condemned by Naidu. This was also condemned by BJP leader Lanka Dhinakar, who said, “Such personal attacks during a pandemic will not go down well with people and would not inspire the confidence of the masses. “
Meanwhile, the people of the state continue to suffer, waiting for vaccines and lifesaving drugs, all of which are in short supply.
Yes, like rest of India, Andhra Pradesh too is in the grip of a severe second COVID-19 wave, that has brought about a severe spurt in the number of cases and deaths. And adding to the overall dismal health administration situation, the government has run short of vaccines. Andhra Pradesh is the one state that had declared openly that it was not in a position to start vaccination of 18 years plus to 45 years age group, as was advised by the Prime Minister, due to a severe shortage of vaccines.
Chief Minister Jagan Mohan Reddy has sought the help of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, asking the Union government to facilitate the transfer of vaccine technology to ICMR-NIV for increased production of the COVID-19 vaccine, Covaxin. Clearly, the combined manufacturing capacities of the two vaccine makers, SII Pune, and Bharat Biotech, will not be enough for the country to vaccinate all of its citizens in the very near future.