21:55 GMT15 May 2021
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    Several Indian state governments, including those of Punjab, Chhattisgarh, and Maharashtra, have warned the federal health authorities of depleting vaccine stocks, as the nation grapples with a second COVID wave. Opposition parties say Prime Minister Narendra Modi's insistence on exporting vaccines to other countries has led to the shortfall.

    Indian Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan on Monday touted the country's COVID vaccination programme as a "matter of pride" for the nation, as he pointed out that India is the only “developing country” to be administering its citizens with two vaccines.

    “The emphasis you laid on vaccination as an important tool to fight COVID-19 is well taken, which is exactly why India launched the world’s biggest vaccination drive and also became the fastest in the world to reach the milestone of 10, 11 and 12 crore vaccine doses (100, 110 and 120 million doses respectively)”, stated Dr Vardhan, responding to a letter from Dr Manmohan Singh, former prime minister and senior Congress leader. 

    “Shouldn’t it be a matter of pride that India is the only developing country to have 2 vaccines?” the Indian health minister asked.

    ​Dr Vardhan also blamed the federal opposition Congress for spreading falsehoods about the vaccine, saying this has contributed to the "below average" vaccination rate across the country.

    “The irresponsible public pronouncements made by some of your leaders have resulted in below national average vaccination coverage of senior citizens and even frontline workers in some of the Congress-ruled states”, the minister said.

    “Please do note that it is these same states that have also become the big contributors in the second wave of COVID infection”, it said.

    The remarks by Dr Vardhan come amid a spike in COVID infections in the country, with a record of 273,810 new infections reported on Monday, as per the Health Ministry. India has reported more than 200,000 new infections on five consecutive days.

    The rise in infections in the ongoing second COVID wave comes amid a shortage of vaccines, overstretched medical facilities, and complaints from different state governments about a lack of oxygen, hospital beds, and life-saving drugs, among other things.

    The government of Prime Minister Modi, however, denies that the nation is struggling with any shortage of vaccine, oxygen, or life-saving drugs.

    In his letter on Sunday, Dr Singh called upon Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to boost India’s vaccine manufacturing capacity in order to lend an impetus to the fight against the COVID pandemic.

    “The key to our fight against Covid-19 must be ramping up the vaccination effort. We must resist the temptation to look at the absolute numbers being vaccinated, and focus instead on the percentage of the population vaccinated. Currently, India has vaccinated only a small fraction of its population. I am certain that with the right policy design, we can do much better and very quickly”, read Dr Singh’s letter.

    “… states (state governments) should be given some flexibility to define categories of frontline workers who can be vaccinated even if they are below 45 years of age”, the letter added.

    The opposition parties in India have been scathingly critical of the government’s “vaccine exports” in recent weeks, stating that they have exported doses should have been used to inoculate the Indian people instead.

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    COVID-19, Narendra Modi, India
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