India's Odisha state warns of Covid-19 vaccine shortage, immunisation halt

A sanitation worker receiving the Covid-19 vaccine in the Koraput district of Odisha, India, on Jan 16, 2021.
A sanitation worker receiving the Covid-19 vaccine in the Koraput district of Odisha, India, on Jan 16, 2021.PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW DELHI (REUTERS) - The eastern Indian state of Odisha might have to stop its coronavirus immunisation drive for four days starting at the end of March because of a shortage of vaccine doses, according to a letter to the federal government reviewed by Reuters.

As India battles a second surge in coronavirus infections that has lifted its caseload to 11.69 million, many states have asked the government to replenish vaccine stocks so that they can cover more people faster.

India has reported the third-highest total of coronavirus infections after the United States and Brazil.

India, the world's biggest vaccine-maker, has donated or sold more than 60 million doses to 76 countries, compared with nearly 48 million doses given at home, leading to criticisms of its vaccine diplomacy.

If supply tightens at home, many countries reliant on India for doses could also suffer.

In a letter to the Indian Ministry of Health and Family Welfare dated on Monday (March 22), Mr P. K. Mohapatra, Odisha's additional chief secretary for health, warned that the state had only enough doses to run its vaccination drive until March 30.

It is expecting another batch of the AstraZeneca vaccine, locally known as Covishield, only on April 2.

"We will have no vaccines for four days," he said. "Hence, adequate doses of Covishield vaccine may be supplied in time so as to continue uninterrupted vaccination drive in our state... Your urgent attention is drawn to the above issue."

Odisha has nearly 44 million people and its capital, Bhubaneswar, is about 360km south-west of Kolkata.

The federal health ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Other Indian states, including Rajasthan, have also flagged a supply crunch, even though the federal government has advised limiting vaccinations to the elderly and people above 45 suffering from other health conditions.

Many states have sought to expand their vaccination campaigns to cover all adults because infections have risen since late February after the economy fully reopened and as most people still go without masks and flout social distancing advice.

Some states have also administered doses to a small number of people outside the prioritised groups to avoid vaccine wastage, as vials need to be consumed within four hours of opening.

About 6.5 per cent of coronavirus vaccine doses in India are going to waste, the health ministry said last week, making it vital for health workers to coordinate the flow of recipients.

The sudden surge in demand is piling pressure on vaccine makers Serum Institute of India (SII) and Bharat Biotech to boost production.

SII has already had to delay further shipments of the AstraZeneca shot to Britain, Brazil, Saudi Arabia and Morocco.

India reported 40,715 new Covid-19 cases in a 24-hour period to Tuesday. Deaths rose by 199 to 160,166.