Maharashtra is letting India down big time; Shot-for-all demand is shifting goal-posts: Dr Vardhan

7th April 2021

7th April 2021

Union health minister Dr. Harsh Vardhan has slammed a few state government functionaries for asking to open up vaccination to everyone above the age of 18 when “the vaccination strategy has been drawn up after extensive deliberations and consultations in partnership with all State governments.”

Dr Vardhan has expressed his “growing dismay” at a “number of irresponsible statements” from these functionaries in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

“As these statements have the potential to mislead the public and spread panic, it has become necessary to put the record straight.

“When states ask to open up vaccine supplies to everyone over 18, we must presume that they have done saturation coverage of healthcare workers, frontline workers and senior citizens. But the facts are altogether different.”

As per Dr Vardhan, Maharashtra has vaccinated only 86% of health workers with first dose. The equivalent numbers for Delhi and Punjab are 72% and 64%. On the other hadn, 10 Indian states/UTs have done more than 90%. 

“Maharashtra has vaccinated just 41% of healthcare workers with second dose. Equivalent numbers for Delhi and Punjab are 41% and 27%. There are 12 Indian states/UTs that have done more than 60%.

“Among frontline workers, Maharashtra has vaccinated only 73% with first dose. Equivalent numbers for Delhi and Punjab are 71% and 65%. There are 5 Indian states/UTs that have already done more than 85%.

“Vaccination of frontline workers with second does for Maharashtra is at  41% For Delhi and Punjab, these numbers are 22% and 20%. There are 6 Indian states/UTs that have done more than 45%.

“When it comes to senior citizens, Maharashtra has vaccinated just 25%, Delhi has vaccinated 30% & Punjab has vaccinated only 13%. There are  4 states/UTs that have already vaccinated more than 50%.”

A dismayed Dr Vardhan writes: “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? Politicising such a public health issue is a damning indictment of certain political leaders who should know better.”

“In particular, I have seen statements made by public representatives in Maharashtra about shortage of vaccines. This is nothing but an attempt to divert attention from Maharashtra government’s repeated failures to control the spread of pandemic. The inability of Maharashtra government to act responsibly is beyond comprehension. To spread panic among the people is to compound the folly further.”

“We, in the central government, have 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.

“Today, Maharashtra not only has the highest cases and deaths in the country but also has one of the highest test positivity rates in the world! Their testing is not up to the mark and their contact tracing leaves a lot to be desired.

“The performance of Maharashtra government in terms of vaccinating healthcare workers and frontline workers is also not great. It is shocking to see how the state Government is putting Maharashtrians in danger by letting people escape institutional quarantine mandate for the sake of their personal Vasuli. Overall, as the state has lurched from one crisis to another, it seems as if the state leadership is happily sleeping at the wheels.

“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.

“Throughout the last year, as the Health Minister of India, I have been a witness to the misgovernance and utter casual approach of Maharashtra Government in battling the virus. The lackadaisical attitude of the state government has singularly bogged down the entire country’s efforts to fight the virus.

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.

I would like to humbly state that it would be better if the state government focusses its energies on ramping up their health infrastructure rather than on petty politicking.

“Similarly, we have seen regular comments by leaders from Chhattisgarh that are intended to spread misinformation and panic on vaccination… Chhattisgarh has seen disproportionately higher number of deaths in the last 2-3 weeks. Their testing remains heavily dependent on rapid antigen tests which is not a wise strategy.

“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 word to have incited vaccine hesitancy.

“Many other States also need to bring their healthcare systems up to the mark. For example, quality of testing needs to improve in Karnataka, Rajasthan and Gujarat. In Punjab, high Case Fatality Rate needs to be improved by early identification of those needing hospitalization. Mask-wearing and social distancing compliance are slack in a large number of States. There is a lot that needs to be done, and we must do it all with speed and at scale.

“I am constrained to speak out now because my silence should not be misconstrued for weakness. Playing politics is easy, but improving governance and health infrastructure is the real test.”

Dr Vardhan said the primary aim of vaccination is to reduce mortality among the most vulnerable people. Further, “so long as the supply of vaccination remains limited, there is no option but to prioritize.”

 

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