Anxiety brews as Kashmir runs out of Covid-19 vaccines

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Mohammad Ali Wani of Srinagar’s uptown neighborhood has been moving from pillar to post for the last two weeks to get himself a second dose of the vaccine against COVID-19.

Wani, a 65-year-old businessman, was due to get his second dose of the Covishield vaccine in the first week of May, but the shortage of vaccines in the region meant he will have to wait further.

To calm down the anxiety of people like Wani, New Delhi increased the gap between two doses of the Covishield vaccine from seven to sixteen weeks.

The government extended the interval further to 12-16 weeks, citing “real-life evidence” from the UK.

India’s Health Ministry said the decision was based on the recommendation of the seven-member Covid-19 Working Group. Covishield accounts for 90 percent of the 17.8 crore vaccine doses administered so far across India. 

Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan conveyed the revised time frame to the states in a letter and said that necessary changes are being carried out in the Co-Win platform.

While the centre cited data from the UK, Britain itself reduced the gap from 12 weeks to just eight.

The British government announced that it has decided to shorten the window between the first and second dose of covid vaccines; and brought forward the second dose from after 12 weeks of the first dose to after eight weeks. 

This was done to address concerns about the spread of the B.1.617 variant of the virus that originated in India and has since caused a healthcare crisis in the world’s second populous nation.

Announcing the decision to reduce the interval between vaccine doses, the British government official said Friday: “We have seen larger clusters of the B.1.617 variant first observed in India since last Monday. We believe this variant is more transmissible than the previous one. But we don’t know by how much. We will accelerate vaccination to those over 50 and those who are clinically vulnerable right across the country so that doses come 8 weeks after the first dose.”

In Kashmir, people like Wani have also questioned the move to widen the dosage gap. “It is clear they don’t have vaccines and have increased the gap, what is the point of asking people to vaccinate when there are no vaccines. It is a sheer betrayal,” he rued.

The Indian government has come under severe criticism in its handling of the second wave of coronavirus which has led to the death of thousands of people – young and old. More so for its export of vaccines which was seen as a diplomatic overture and a ploy to strengthen India’s worldwide image. 

However, the Narendra Modi government has put the blame on the states, and to ward off the criticism it has asked states to procure vaccines on their own.

While states like Kerala, West Bengal, UP, and Delhi have already taken the step to procure vaccines on their own. Jammu and Kashmir, which is a union territory now, is far behind in doing so even as it claimed to have begun administering vaccines for the 18-45 age category.

“There are no vaccines for the elderly, let alone the old,” an employee at one of the vaccine centres told The Kashmir Walla. He said that at the beginning there was hesitancy however, the devastation in Delhi changed everything  “People would not even come near a vaccination centre, now they are waiting in queues to get one,” he said wishing anonymity.

Amid the spike in Covid-19 cases and deaths across Jammu and Kashmir, the Kashmir division in the Union Territory (UT) is facing an acute shortage of vaccines. 

There is a shortage of vaccines in almost every health care facility across Kashmir and Srinagar is now registering zero dosages. 

Those who have taken the first dose of vaccine around two months before are waiting to get the second jab of the vaccine.

This despite the J-K administration’s repeated claims that there is no shortage of COVID-19 vaccines in the Union Territory.

This has led to fear among the populace, especially the pregnant women who are at greater risk, “I wanted to get vaccinated, as you can see many young pregnant women are dying, but there are no vaccines,” said a worried Hinna Khan, who is pregnant.

To ward off the fears, Jammu and Kashmir needs to vaccinate its population even if that means procuring them from foreign countries much like what other states have done. Otherwise, the purpose of lockdown and other measures to control the pandemic will bear no fruits.

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