Some of India’s worst-affected covid-19 hotspots have seen a severe slowdown in vaccinations this month, an analysis of district-level data shows, a development that may lead to more infections, hospitalizations and deaths
Some of India’s worst-affected covid-19 hotspots have seen a severe slowdown in vaccinations this month, an analysis of district-level data shows, a development that may lead to more infections, hospitalizations and deaths.
The top 20 cities with the most active cases have given 42% fewer shots a day in May than they did in April amid a crippling shortage of vaccine doses.
Across India, the pace of vaccination has slowed down by 35%—from an average 2.9 million daily doses in April to 1.9 million a day in the first 10 days of May. Among the 20 most severe hotspots, Delhi is the only one where the pace of vaccinations accelerated by 2%. Ernakulam and Thrissur in Kerala saw the biggest slump—the two neighbouring districts are now administering fewer than 6,000 doses a day, against nearly 20,000 in April. The slowdown comes amid weeks of supply shortages. Since 1 May, India has adopted a new ‘liberalized’ vaccination programme, with states allowed to use vaccines procured from the free market. However, most states have been unable to procure enough vaccines.
The latest phase, which rolled out jabs to the 18-44 age group on 1 May, has been the second slowest to take off. Just 3.04 million doses have been given to this age group as of Tuesday. Only the first phase in January was slower, with 2.36 million doses given in its first 11 days.
A more disproportionate slowdown in the biggest hotspots indicates that supplies may have gone to districts that needed it less. Just 131 districts—one in every six—have vaccinated faster in May than in the previous month, but most of them are not hotspots of active infections.
K. Sujatha Rao, a former Union health secretary, said while India had focused vaccinations in terms of vulnerable groups, it seemed to lack a strategy to use epidemiological analysis to prioritize geographies. “That is why you find an unevenness of vaccine availability between hotspots and areas not affected by the virus," she said.
Rijo M. John, an adjunct professor at Rajagiri College of Social Sciences, Kochi, said vaccinations should ideally be faster in high caseload areas, but may have been hit by already stressed healthcare capacity.
Indranil Mukhopadhyay, a professor of public health at O.P. Jindal Global University, suggests prioritizing the elderly. “India kept increasing the demand-side factors by removing age restrictions (for vaccines), but supply couldn’t match the speed," he said. “In most states the elderly, who are more vulnerable to the pandemic, have not been fully vaccinated. This has serious implications on our health infrastructure, as it could increase burden of critical care."
Facing desperate shortages, some states have announced plans to float global tenders to get foreign supplies, while some have reprioritized vaccine doses. As of 11 May, Delhi had given the most doses (4.2 million) so far. Adjusted for population, Gurugram leads the way among hotspots, with 38 doses given per 100 population.