NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India said on Tuesday it would expand its vaccination campaign from April 1 to include everyone above 45, and denied there was any shortage as a second surge in infections drives up demand.
The assurance on supplies comes as the government’s highly publicised vaccine diplomacy is being questioned at home. India, the world’s biggest vaccine maker, has exported more than 60 million doses but given only about 50 million to its own people.
Currently, only the elderly and those over 45 with other health conditions are eligible. Health and frontline workers were first in line when India began its drive in mid-January.
“Our appeal is that all above 45 should take vaccine as early as possible,” Information Minister Prakash Javadekar said, adding that inoculations in the past 24 hours had reached a record.
He brushed aside a question on when the government would include all adults, as demanded by states such as Punjab and the capital Delhi.
Javadekar and the health ministry sought to allay fears over supplies expressed by some states, such as Odisha.
“There is no shortage of vaccines in the country,” the ministry said in a statement.
The sudden increase in demand, nevertheless, is piling pressure on vaccine makers the Serum Institute of India (SII) and Bharat Biotech to step up output. SII has already delayed shipments of the AstraZeneca vaccine to Brazil, Britain, Morocco and Saudi Arabia.
Odisha state has warned the health ministry that it expects vaccine stocks to be exhausted by March 30, with another batch of the AstraZeneca vaccine scheduled to arrive only on April 2.
“We will have no vaccines for four days,” state health official P.K. Mohapatra said in a letter seen by Reuters.
Overall vaccinations have climbed to a daily record in India, with 3.2 million doses given in the past 24 hours.
Total vaccinations in India, which aims to vaccinate 300 million of its 1.35 billion people by August, rank as the world’s third highest after the United States and China, but the figure per capita is lower, the website Our World in Data https://ourworldindata.org/covid-vaccinations shows.
That has worried many Indian states as infections have soared since late February, following a near-full reopening of the economy.
India is expected to soon approve Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine for emergency use, which would boost availability.
India reported 40,715 new cases in the 24 hours until Tuesday morning, with its richest state of Maharashtra contributing more than 60% of the total. Deaths rose by 199 to 160,166.
Late on Tuesday, Maharashtra alone reported 28,699 new cases and 132 deaths, the most fatalities in months.
(Additional reporting by Jatindra Dash, Chandini Monnappa, Sachin Ravikumar and Aftab Ahmed; Editing by Christian Schmollinger and Giles Elgood)