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Vaccines falling short, Maharashtra Health Minister’s Jalna district got extra doses

From April 7 to 9, when several districts in Maharashtra had to shut down their vaccination centres on account of shortage of vaccines, Jalna stood out, with a surplus that would last at least 10 more days.

Home to Maharashtra Health Minister Rajesh Tope, Jalna district received 60,000 vaccine doses more than its allotment of 17,000 when fresh supplies of 26.77 lakh doses were received by the state from the Centre on March 31 — and distributed to all districts.

Sources said Tope called Health Department officials and asked them to increase the allocation to his district to 77,000 doses. Tope told The Indian Express “no particular district was preferred” and that if Jalna got more stocks, this was done “to encourage more vaccination”. “We distributed doses to primary health centres and sub centres to increase vaccination,” the minister said, noting that against the state average of 27% of the target population receiving vaccinations, Jalna had accomplished just 18.1% at the time.

But this went against both the criteria on which the Maharashtra public health department distributes doses: a district’s daily performance of vaccination and active cases. On March 31, Jalna had 773 active cases, lower than 30 districts. In terms of daily vaccinations, its figure of 600-1,000 till March end put it among the 10 lowest-performing districts.

State immunisation officer Dr DN Patil diverted 60,000 doses from Aurangabad to Jalna on April 1. Aurangabad, also one of the six divisional storage centre for vaccines in the state, had received 1.95 lakh doses, based on its 7,000-8,000 daily vaccinations.

At that point Jalna was conducting just 600-1000 vaccinations a day. At this rate, it had enough vaccine doses to last 15-18 days when other districts had stocks only for five-10 days. Following the extra doses, Jalna increased daily vaccinations to 3,000-5,000 in the first week of April.

Meanwhile, between April 8 and 9, officials across Maharashtra districts made frantic calls for more supplies to the state health department. Finally, Tope allowed transfer of 15,000 doses from Jalna to nearby districts.

Immunisation officer Dr Patil did not respond to calls or text messages.

Jalna’s neighbouring districts received lower doses despite performing better than it on daily vaccination numbers and having more Covid cases. Beed, that in the last week of March was vaccinating 3000-5,000 people per day and had 4,296 active cases, received 30,800 doses on April 1; Latur with 3,000-5,000 daily vaccinations and 5,931 active cases got 53,800 doses; and Parbhani with 2,000-3,000 vaccinations and 4,944 cases got 21,500 doses.

Only nine districts with vaccination numbers higher than Jalna (between 8,000-40,000) received more stocks than it on April 1.

Sources said Tope “insisted” on allotting Jalna more stock on March 31 because Maharashtra had received a huge supply from the Centre. Before that as well as later, the state received limited stocks ranging between 5-14 lakh doses.

Among the districts and corporations that shut down several vaccination centres between April 7 and 9 due to zero stocks were Satara, Navi Mumbai, Mumbai and Sangli. On April 7, Jalna had over 50,000 doses. Mumbai had to shut 25 private centres on April 8 and 50 centres on April 9.

District health officials said they requested the state government, including Tope, to urgently send more stocks. “We reasoned with the minister that stocks in Jalna would sit for days as other districts suffered. He eventually agreed to divert stocks from Jalna,” an official said.

On April 8, Jalna transferred 15,000 doses, to Washim, Yavatmal and Parbhani. “A few centres could not function for a day-and-a-half,” said Dr Avinash Aaher, Washim’s district health officer.

Dr Vivek Khatgaonkar, district health officer in Jalna, said doses were moved to other districts when shortage was reported. In Yavatmal, district health officer Dr Hari Pawar said their supply is always limited.

Incidentally, on April 7 and 8, Tope red-flagged the acute vaccine shortage in Maharashtra, receiving in turn a trenchant response from Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan that the state had enough stocks.

Till May 2, Jalna had administered 2.06 lakh doses, while improving its daily capacity to 13,000 doses.

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