India will be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by the end of 2021, Union Minister Prakash Javadekar declared Friday, as the centre hit back after Congress MP Rahul Gandhi pointed out that less than three per cent of the country's 130 crore people had received both doses of a vaccine.
Mr Javadekar drew Rahul Gandhi's attention to a Union Health Ministry "blueprint" that, he said, would ensure the vaccination of 108 crore people by December, and reminded him "India is the second-fastest in vaccinating its people"; over 20 crore doses have been administered so far.
"India's vaccination will be completed before 2021. The Health Ministry has given a blueprint. 108 crore people - with 216 crore doses - will be vaccinated by December. Rahulji... if you're concerned about vaccination then pay attention to Congress ruled states... there is a mess. They are not taking the quota given to them for 18-44 year old beneficiaries from May 1," Mr Javadekar said.
He also accused state governments, many of which have frantically red-flagged low vaccine stocks over the past weeks, of "not taking the quota for 18-44 age group given to them from May 1".
In a lengthy attack the minister also criticised Mr Gandhi and his party colleagues for questioning Covaxin - the vaccine developed and manufactured by Bharat Biotech.
Covaxin was approved in January but medical experts, civil society groups and opposition leaders, including those from the Congress, questioned its safety and efficacy after it was passed without key trial data. Those results were eventually released in March and Covaxin showed 81 per cent efficacy.
Hours earlier Mr Gandhi said PM Modi "did not understand Covid at all".
The ex-Congress chief, who has repeatedly questioned the centre over the pace of vaccination, said vaccines were the only permanent solution, and India would remain at risk of "multiple" waves sans a proper strategy.
Vaccine supplies have become a sore subject in India, with several states insisting they do not have enough doses to vaccinate both age groups - 18-44 and 45+, and concerns over slow production.
Many of these states - which include Maharashtra, BJP-ruled Uttar Pradesh and national capital Delhi - have floated global tenders to buy vaccines after the centre, effectively, said it would only supply 50 per cent of required doses. States (and private hospitals) were told to buy the rest on their own.
The centre, however, insists states do have enough doses and has accused them of wastage. On Thursday, Madhya Pradesh - a BJP-ruled state - joined others in hitting back over this charge.
The centre on Thursday released a "myth and facts" sheet in which it criticised "some of our leaders" and said it was working hard to approve new vaccines and scale up production. The sheet pointed to talks with US pharma giant Pfizer, and the earlier approval of Russia's Sputnik V as evidence.
This morning India reported over 1.86 lakh new cases - the lowest daily increase in 44 days - but still a significant surge. There are over 24.4 lakh active cases and over 3.18 lakh people have died.