Authorities in at least a dozen Bengal districts have recently informed the state health department to stop supplying Covishield — a vaccine that aims to protect against the Covid-19 infection — as their existing stock is lying unused allegedly because of “low public demand” the dip in infections.
Sources in the state health department said that the situation is such that they are sitting on over 30 lakh doses of the vaccine, which would expire within two months, as people are reluctant to get their jabs
“This is an unprecedented problem... We were failing to meet the demand for Covid vaccines during the second and third waves. Now, it is the opposite. Few districts have written to us with a request to take back the vaccines from their stocks,” said a health official in Calcutta.
“We have decided to return around 15 lakh vaccines to the Centre if those are not administered before expiry,” he added.
Chief minister Mamata Banerjee, who held an administrative review meeting with the state and district officials on the Covid-19 situation in Bengal on Wednesday, seemed to be aware of the situation. She directed few districts with comparatively low vaccination rates to increase the number of vaccination.
“Some districts like Malda, Jalpaiguri, South 24-Parganas and Jhargram had reported below 90 percent vaccination in case of both first and second doses. The chief minister asked the districts to increase the rate of vaccination as soon as possible. She wanted a report of growth within a week from the state health officials,” said an official who attended the chief minister’s meeting.
In districts like Bankura, Birbhum and South 24-Parganas, which urged the health department to stop supply of vaccines, the stock of vaccines is in excess of 1.5 lakh in each district, which would expire within July this year.
“We have written to the state as we don’t want to take responsibility if the vaccines expire,” said a health official in Bankura.
Health officials in Birbhum requested the state to take back around 1 lakh of doses from the stock of the districts before expiry.
Records available with the health department suggest that around 7.27 crore people have got the first dose while 6.36 crore have got the second dose of the vaccine. Only 27.11 lakh people have taken the precautionary or booster dose so far in Bengal.
Health officials said demand was still higher for booster doses but very few people were eligible for it.
Health officials referred to the vaccination data for the month of January and May to explain the lack of interest among people for inoculation.
“On January 22, we had vaccinated 7.48 lakh people whereas yesterday we had vaccinated only 40,000 people. It is enough to show the present situation and overburden of covid jabs in both at the state level and in the districts,” said a senior official.
A section of health officials, however, said the reason for surplus vaccines is due to the central guidelines that limit the precautionary doses only to 60-plus people and frontline workers.
“Apart from a few districts, the first and second doses of vaccines have been given to 96 percent of the targeted group. We can give precautionary doses to people over 60 years of age and frontline workers. We can’t provide them to people below the age of 60 years... So, we are overburdened with the stock,” said a state health official dealing with vaccination in Calcutta.