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India running out of COVID-19 vaccines


India running out of COVID-19 vaccines
United States army personnel preparing to unload coronavirus (COVID-19) relief supplies from the US at the Indira Gandhi International Airport cargo terminal in New Delhi, India April 30, 2021. (Reuters)

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New Delhi – Several states in India have run out of vaccines against coronavirus (COVID-19), exacerbating a dire second wave of infections that has left hospitals and morgues overflowing while families scramble for increasingly scarce medicines and oxygen.

“Come back to us. How will we live without you?” wailed Aanchal Sharma and her mother-in-law over the lifeless body of her husband, waiting like so many others for their turn at a crematorium on the outskirts of New Delhi.

In the parking lot, more than ten ambulances containing corpses lined up while workers cleared ashes from pyres that had spilled over from the main cremation area.

Second only to the United States in total infections, India has reported more than 300 000 new cases daily for nine days in a row, hitting another global record of 386 452 on Friday.

Total deaths have surpassed 200 000 and cases are nearing 19 million – nearly eight million since February alone as virulent new strains have combined with “super-spreader” events such as political rallies and religious festivals.

Medical experts say real numbers may be five to 10 times higher than the official tally. Patients have been begging for spaces in hospitals while oxygen tanks are scarce and prized.

Despite being the world’s biggest producer of vaccines, India now does not have enough for itself – undermining a plan to ramp up and widen inoculation from Saturday.

Only about nine per cent of its 1.4 billion people have had a dose.

“I registered to get a slot 28 days before, but now they are saying there are no vaccines,” complained Jasmin Oza on Twitter.

Vaccine bottlenecks

India has struggled to increase capacity beyond 80 million doses a month due to lack of raw materials and a fire at the Serum Institute, which makes the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Authorities in the financial capital Mumbai said inoculation centres were closing for three days, while Delhi’s chief minister Arvind Kejriwal told citizens not to show up for vaccinations on Saturday as doses had not yet arrived.

Karnataka state, home to tech hub Bengaluru, postponed its new vaccination drive for adults that was to start on Saturday.

However, officials in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s western home state of Gujarat said vaccinations for those aged between 18 and 45 would begin on Saturday in worst-hit districts.

And contradicting some of the local governments, the national health ministry said states had ten million vaccines stockpiled and two million more coming in the next three days.

Modi met on Friday with his cabinet, which recognised a “once in a century” crisis in India.

With India’s health system reeling and absenteeism from the workplace soaring – as staff fall ill or take care of relatives – international aid has begun pouring in.

A first U.S. aid flight with oxygen cylinders, regulators, rapid diagnostic kits, masks and pulse oximeters arrived.

“Just as India came to our aid early in the pandemic, the United States is committed to working urgently to provide assistance to India in its time of need,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken tweeted.