Patna:Barely five days after Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar launched a fresh vaccination drive to vaccinate six crore people in the next six months to protect them from COVID-19, 18 out of 38 districts in the state are facing vaccine shortages. It was laid bare on Friday when not a single person was vaccinated in Begusarai district due to the unavailability of vaccines. Similarly, less than 1,000 people were vaccinated in 18 districts for the same reason with less than 500 vaccinations in seven districts on Friday.
Vaccination drives went smoothly in only five districts on Friday including Patna, with 80,508 people vaccinated here followed by 21,296 in Muzaffarpur district,15,659 in East Champaran district,14,615 in Bhagalpur and 14,241 in Gaya district. However Patna will see vaccination at only some centres in urban areas on Saturday while only the second dose of vaccines will be given in rural areas. The vaccination exercise is expected to return to normal from Monday
Like the state's other much-hyped official programmes, the first day of the vaccination drive on June 21 showed incredible numbers, with more than seven lakh people (7,29,332) vaccinated in the state.It was a single day vaccination record for Bihar but soon after that the vaccination drive was slowed down.
As per official figures from the health department, the number of daily vaccinations declined after June 21. The next day, the number of vaccinations had come down to less than 50% of the previous day with only 3.25 lakh people vaccinated. The number went down further on June 23 with only 2.63 lakh people vaccinated. On June 24, only 2.13 lakh people were vaccinated. While there is no official explanation for the remarkable drop in numbers the reason is widely believed to be a shortage of vaccines. All this despite the much-publicised vaccination express (vehicles) which visit rural areas to vaccinate people at their doorstep.
Notably, this is not the first time the state is facing a vaccine shortage. In the month of May the vaccination drive was halted for those in the 18-44 age group for several days.
Given the slow start, the big question that arises is about the availability of vaccines and the number of people intended to be vaccinated per day on an average to ensure that targets are achieved. Aside from the Bihar State Health Society no other agency has either released data related to the number of daily vaccinations nor about its availability.
According to official sources in the health department there is a need for about 25 lakh vaccine doses in stock per week in the state to maintain the vaccination drive. For that the state government has to administer one crore vaccine doses each monght.
Last month the state government had announced that it was aiming to vaccinate 5.46 crore people in the 18-44 age group, but the current rate of vaccination does not elicit much excitement.
Furthermore, the vaccination drive has been either slowed down or halted time and again since it began. “In the last one and half months the vaccination drive was badly hit for more than a week in Patna and other districts,” a district health official told Newsclick.
The COVID-19 vaccination drive in the state began on January 16 this year. After the second wave of the pandemic hit Bihar in mid-April, the state government declared that it will speed up the vaccination process for all. Notably, the ruling NDA’s election manifesto ahead of the assembly elections had promised free vaccination.
Vaccination drives have been badly affected since May. Prior to that, the government in April had postponed the vaccination drive scheduled from May 1. Following this, on April 30, the Bihar State Health Society had announced that the ongoing registration for vaccines would continue and doses would be available from the second week of May, instead of the first.The official drive for the 18-44 year age group began on May 9, a day after the first consignment of 3.4 lakh vaccine doses reached Patna.
Special secretary of the state health department, Manoj Kumar, said that the government had placed an order for Covishield doses from the Serum Institute of India (SII). Besides, an order was also placed for Covaxin from Bharat Biotech.
“The state has been receiving regular consignments of Covishield and Covaxin vaccine doses. We expect more consignments will arrive soon to help speed up the vaccination process,” Kumar said.
Meanwhile, state Health Minister Mangal Pandey has repeatedly claimed that all in all the age group will be vaccinated in the state.
In April this year, the state government had approved an allocation of Rs 4,000 crore for vaccinating people in the 18-44 age bracket. Later, the state cabinet cleared the release of Rs 1,000 crore from the total allocation of funds for procurement of vaccine doses from Serum Institute of India (SII) and Bharat Biotech.
Bihar officially reported 207 COVID-19 cases on June 25, its lowest tally in the last two and half months. With COVID-19 cases officially decreasing by the day in the state, the positivity rate stands at less than one per cent and the recovery rate is 98.34%. Active COVID-19 cases have also gone down to 2,396.