Patna: Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar's claim about the state administering 33,09,685 COVID-19 vaccine doses in a single day on September 17 has been met with suspicion by health experts, social activists and the general public.
The state health department had tweeted that Bihar administered a record number of COVID-19 vaccine doses in the country in a single day in its “Maha-Tika-Abhiyan” on September 17. Prime Minister Narendra Modi turned 71 on that day.
Dr Shakeel, the head of the Bihar-based Centre for Health and Resource Management, a civil society organisation that works in the health sector, questioned the government's silence on the number of vaccines administered in the previous two days.
”Is it not a fact that vaccine drives on September 15 and 16 were offline? No data entry was made on the CoWIN portal of vaccines administered on those two days,” Shakeel said.
Shakeel, who is also associated with Jan Swasthya Abhiyan in the state, added that if we go by the government's own updated record, the daily average of vaccinations in the preceding week (before September 17) was 4.6 lakh, which, if taken into consideration means that data of around 9.2 lakh vaccine doses weren't added to the portal on those two days.
"It appears that vaccination numbers of two days were added in Maha-Tika-Abhiyan on September 17 to inflate the numbers,” Shakeel said.
As per local reports, hundreds of data operators started entering the figures on the CoWIN portal as early as 4 AM on September 17- several hours before the vaccine sessions had started. Officially, the vaccine session was to start at 9 am. The data entry went up to post-midnight and was stopped only when the portal shut down for the day.
“This is a clear case of a much-hyped COVID-19 vaccination drive by manipulating data, misusing resources and beating drums loudly. The whole exercise was to keep someone special happy,” Shakeel said.
According to a senior health department official, all data operators dealing with the general administration of the different departments were involved in data entry on September 17. Besides, for mobilisation of human resources, thousands of school teachers, Block Development officers and Circle officers were engaged.
Rupesh, a social activist who has been active in the distribution of relief materials to people affected during the pandemic, said that the government should not celebrate its claim of administering the highest number of COVID-19 vaccines in a single day because it is doubtful and was carried out as a propaganda exercise.
"Instead of patting itself, the government should first inquire whether such a large number of vaccines administered in a day or not actually,” Rupesh said. He further asked how the state could administer such a large number of doses in a single day when it has been experiencing issues related to the storage and distribution of COVID vaccines.
A senior doctor at AIIMS Patna said on condition of anonymity that the state government was more interested in having such a record rather than increasing its capacity to administer at least 1 million vaccines every day.
"We had witnessed the worst health crisis during the second COVID wave this year but failed to learn that our focus should not be to play a different game. Vaccination is a must for all and shouldn't be a matter of record,” the doctor said.
Opposition Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Tejashwi Yadav, who is also the Leader of Opposition in the Bihar Assembly, targeted Bihar CM over the claim.
"So much to please! Vaccination was reduced for a week to inflate numbers on PM's birthday. @NitishKumar Ji, Did this sycophantic exercise bring any fortune to the common man? Why on other days vaccination numbers are 6 times lesser than yesterday? Any logical answer to your failure?” Yadav tweeted.
However, Bihar Health Minister Mangal Pandey on Sunday announced that the state has (till September 19) administered more than 5 crore COVID vaccine doses.
In June, the state had launched a fresh vaccination drive with a target of vaccinating six crore people in the next six months. Until recently, many districts have been reporting vaccine shortages.
Even at that time, the administration had claimed to have vaccinated a record number of people, with more than seven lakh people (7,29,332) vaccinated in the state on June 21. But soon after, the vaccination rate had slowed down.