The Indian federal government had earlier announced a vaccination drive against the coronavirus for all those above 18 years of age, starting 1 May. Before this only those above 45 years of age were eligible to be inoculated. The touted drive began on a tepid note, with many state governments announcing its deferment amidst vaccine shortages.
The federal government in India is at loggerheads with several state governments that have flagged a shortage of vaccines and communicated to the central government their inability to begin inoculation of the population above 18 years of age from 1 May.
On 19 April, the federal government had announced a “liberalized’ policy with a view to ramping up the coronavirus vaccination drive in the country. The states had been given the liberty to buy supplies directly from vaccine manufacturers in order to expedite the process.
That India has put vaccine hesitancy behind it was apparent from the fact that 25 million people had registered themselves for the vaccine on the CoWin portal last week. After an initial hiccup, Delhi has since started inoculating its 18+ population.
The states of Chhattisgarh, Odisha, and Maharashtra were among those that began the third phase of vaccinations, targeted at the 18+ population, on the scheduled date of 1 May.
However, several states including West Bengal, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Goa, Assam, Telangana, and Punjab have deferred the vaccination drive for those 18+ for want of adequate doses. The ongoing vaccination drive is still targeting those above 45 years of age.
Federal Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan has refuted claims about vaccine shortages being faced by state governments. In a recent tweet he touted the vaccination drive.
On Sunday, as many as 13 top opposition leaders in the country issued a joint statement asking the federal government to “focus all attention in ensuring an uninterrupted flow of oxygen supplies to all hospitals and health centres across the country”.
The statement was signed by Sonia Gandhi, president of the Indian National Congress, HD Deve Gowda, former prime minister of India, Mamata Banerjee, chief of West Bengal, Uddhav Thackeray, chief of Maharashtra, MK Stalin, chief of Tamil Nadu, Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav, former chiefs of Uttar Pradesh, Tejashwi Yadav, the leader of the opposition in Bihar, and Sitaram Yechury, secretary general of the Communist Party of India (Marxist).
The leaders said in the statement that they “call upon the federal government to immediately launch a free mass vaccination program across the country. The budgetary allocation of $7 billion for the vaccination program must be utilized for this”.
The federal government had earlier announced a budgetary allocation of $7 billion during the annual budget, presented in February, towards fighting the pandemic.