Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Friday urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to immediately halt the export of coronavirus vaccines amid complaints of shortage of doses by several states.
Gandhi requested Modi to open up vaccination for “everyone who needs it”, as coronavirus cases in India continue to rise sharply. He also demanded that the states be given a greater say in vaccine procurement and distribution.
In his letter to Modi, the Congress leader wrote that there was no clear reason for why the Centre allowed large-scale export of coronavirus vaccines. “While our nation is facing vaccine starvation, more than 6 crore vaccines have been imported,” Gandhi said. “The state governments are repeatedly highlighting vaccine shortages only to receive intemperate statements by the Union minister of health and family welfare targeting targeting Opposition-ruled states, undercutting cooperative federalism which you too have stressed as essential.”
Union health minister Harsh Vardhan, meanwhile, said that India has so far exported 6.45 crore vaccine doses to 84 countries. This also included grants and commercial contracts, ANI reported.
Gandhi claimed that India was moving “at snail’s pace” in terms of vaccination, even though it had first mover advantage. “In the present case, we have managed to fully vaccinate less than 1% of the population in three months,” Gandhi said. “At our current vaccination rate, it would take years to inoculate 75% of the population. This will have catastrophic effects and will gravely decelerate India’s economy.”
The Congress leader asked Modi whether the export of vaccines was an oversight or an effort to garner publicity at the cost of citizens.
Earlier on Friday, Gandhi had said the shortage of coronavirus vaccines was a serious matter and not an “utsav” or festival, as he criticised Modi’s call for a four-day vaccination festival from April 11 to 14.
The prime minister made the remark after a meeting with the chief ministers of several states to discuss the coronavirus situation. His statement came as various states, including Odisha, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Haryana, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana complained of vaccine shortages.
But though the states have flagged their concerns, the Centre has repeatedly dismissed their worries, and the Union health minister accused state governments of making “deplorable attempts” to spread panic among the people.