Fact Check

Health Minister Sets the Record Straight on India’s COVID Vaccination Strategy

In the past one week, many self-styled health “experts” and political leaders are asking for the vaccination process to be opened to all without knowing the science and logic behind India’s vaccination strategy. State governments like Maharashtra’s are also making irresponsible statements that there is vaccine shortage in the state.

Hitting two birds with a stone, Union Health Health Minister Harsh Vardan set the record straight on both these baseless claims, and explained the rationale behind India’s vaccination strategy through a statement yesterday.

Reduce Mortality, Beat Pandemic

The Health Minister first took the “advice” given by self-styled health “experts” who wanted vaccination to be opened for everyone above 18 or drastically lower the minimum age criteria.

Since December of last year, Government of India has been stressing the fact that the priority of the government will be to first vaccinate a critical mass of the population and break the chain of transmission of the virus, indicating that the entire population may not be mandatorily vaccinated.

The health minister once again reiterated this and added that the aim of vaccination is to reduce mortality among the most vulnerable people, and enable society to beat the pandemic. Accordingly, the world’s largest vaccination drive was launched in India with the first recipients being our healthcare personnel and front-line workers.

Once this had progressed to a certain level, vaccination was opened up to further categories and is currently open to everyone above the age of 45 years. Most importantly, he added that so long as the supply of vaccines remains limited, there is no option but to prioritize. This is also the established practice around the world, and is well known to all State governments.

Twitter user @surajbrf also pointed out this vaccination strategy has been laid out in the COVID—19 Vaccine Communication Strategy 2020 document that was released last year. The document clearly mentions that frontline workers, those with greatest risk of exposure, and population above age of 50 will be given priority.

This is known to all state government, politicians and media, but still sections of these important stakeholders continue to ignore these scientific guidelines and continue to misinform people. India’s prioritization guidelines are also in line with global prioritization norms and essentially the same as adopted in US, UK and Germany.

Busting the Vaccine Shortage Myth

Health Minister Harsh Vardhan then asked a very important question. Have the states which are asking for vaccination to be opened up for everyone above 18, vaccinated most of the frontline workers and senior citizens?

Obviously not, as the numbers show. He points out that:

  • Maharashtra has vaccinated just only 86% of health workers with first dose. The equivalent numbers for Delhi and Punjab are 72% and 64%. On the other hand, 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%.

Since these states have not even done saturation coverage of frontline workers and senior citizens, is it right to ask for opening up of the vaccination process for everyone above 18? Why are they shifting the goal post and politicizing this important public health issue?

Utter mismanagement by Maharashtra Government

Health Minister Harsh Vardhan then points out the utter misgovernance and utterly casual approach taken by the Maharashtra government in battling the virus despite constant help and remainders from Union government.

Maharashtra not only has the highest cases and deaths in India; it also has one of the highest test positivity rates in the world! He also points out that 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. He then points out the shocking fact that the state government is putting Maharashtrians in danger by letting people escape the institutional quarantine mandate for the sake of their personal Vasuli.

Standing fully with the people of Maharashtra, the Health Minister adds that the Central Government will help them in all possible ways, but Maharashtra Government needs to do a lot more to control the pandemic rather than spread lies and create panic.