The world’s largest vaccine maker has slammed exports as cases soared at home

A policeman receives a COVID-19 vaccine at a government hospital in Hyderabad last week. (AP photo)

New Delhi: India’s main opposition Congress party on Tuesday criticized Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government for exporting nearly double the number of doses of the coronavirus vaccine compared to vaccinations given at home, despite the surge in infections.

India, the world’s largest vaccine maker, has donated or sold 59 million domestically produced doses compared to the 33 million doses given to its people since the vaccination campaign began in mid-January.

While some rich countries like the United States are being accused of vaccine nationalism, India is being praised globally for sending shots to 71 countries, especially the AstraZeneca vaccine as well as some local Bharat Biotech products.

However, many Indians now want the government to provide vaccinations to more of its people rather than just the elderly and those over the age of 45 and those with health conditions.

“The priority of the Modi government is not the country but foreign countries,” Congress said on Twitter, using the hashtag #IndiaNeedsMoreVaccines, and accused the prime minister of focusing on “public relations for the people.”

“The pace of vaccination in the states is slow due to the centralization of vaccine distribution,” she said.

Strike a balance

Health Minister Harsh Vardan told Parliament that vaccines are not being exported “at the expense of the people of India” and that a balance is being struck.

India’s immunization drive has rebounded dramatically since Modi expanded it this month. However, Bangladesh is vaccinating more people than its population using shots made in India.

India plans to vaccinate 300 million of its 1.35 billion people by August.

It reported 24,492 new cases of coronavirus on Tuesday, the sixth consecutive day of more than 20,000 infections.

The total cases have now risen to 11.41 million, the highest after the United States and Brazil. Data from the Ministry of Health showed that deaths increased from 131 to 158,856 in the past 24 hours.

The government has blamed crowding and a general reluctance to wear masks on the rise, and has ruled out virus mutations as a factor, unlike the West.

Maharashtra, India’s hardest hit, has ordered movie theaters, hotels and restaurants to limit the number of guests to half capacity until the end of the month. Weddings and other social events will have a limited attendance as well.

Maharashtra has also closed some areas.

Another western state, Gujarat, has decided not to allow fans to enter the world’s largest cricket stadium hosting international matches between India and England, after experiencing a surge in cases.

Tens of thousands of people attended the initial matches seated or standing shoulder to shoulder, and a small number of them were wearing masks, prompting widespread criticism on social media.

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