After Maharashtra's SOS on vaccines, Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan on Wednesday slammed what he called "deplorable attempts by some state governments to distract attention from their failures and spread panic among the people". The "lackadaisical attitude" of the Maharashtra government had singularly bogged down the entire country's efforts to fight the virus, he said in a furious statement.
Maharashtra Health Minister Rajesh Tope said this morning that the state may run out of Covid vaccines in three days and that he had asked the centre to send more stocks soonest, with cities like Mumbai forced to shut down vaccination centres or turn away people.
Harsha Vardhan called them "irresponsible statements" that had the potential to "mislead the public and spread panic".
Stating that he wanted to set the record straight, he wrote: "I am constrained to speak out now because my silence should not be misconstrued for weakness. Playing politics is easy, but improving governance and health infrastructure is the real test."
Maharashtra's statements on vaccine shortage were "nothing but an attempt to divert attention from the Maharashtra government's repeated failures to control the spread of pandemic", Harsh Vardhan said, accusing the state's leadership of "happily sleeping at the wheels".
"The inability of Maharashtra government to act responsibly is beyond comprehension. To spread panic among the people is to compound the folly further," he added, dismissing talk of vaccine shortage as "baseless".
The Union Health Minister also tore into demands by "a section of political leaders" to open up vaccinations to all adults or drastically lower the age bar, pointing out that vaccinations so far had not been optimum.
The government had "no option" but to prioritise "so long as the supply of vaccines remains limited", said Harsh Vardhan.
"...The primary aim of vaccination is to reduce mortality among the most vulnerable people, and enable the 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," he said.
"When states ask to open up vaccine supplies to everyone over 18, we must presume that they have done saturation coverage of healthcare workers, frontline workers and senior citizens. But the facts are altogether different."
The Health Minister listed how Maharashtra, Delhi and Punjab had fallen short in the vaccination of targeted groups so far.
"Doesn't it seem evident that these states are trying to divert attention from their poor vaccination efforts by just continuously shifting the goal-posts? Politicizing such a public health issue is a damning indictment of certain political leaders who should know better," said Harsh Vardhan.
The lack of effort by Maharashtra "has come to haunt us all", he said, adding: "It is shocking to see how the state Government is putting Maharashtrians in danger by letting people escape institutional quarantine mandate for the sake of their personal Vasuli."
The Health Minister also attacked the Chhattisgarh Congress government, saying it had refused to use Covaxin, and, by its actions, "had the dubious distinction of being perhaps the only government in the word to have incited vaccine hesitancy."