India cremating on the streets, crisis a blow to Kenya's vaccination plans

Flames rise from cremation pyres of 13 COVID-19 patients who died in a fire that broke out in Vijay Vallabh COVID-19 hospital, at Virar, near Mumbai, India, Friday, April 23, 2021. (AP Photo/Rajanish Kakade)

India's Covid-19 health crisis might halt the ongoing vaccination campaigns in Kenya and other African countries depending on the Covax facility for its vaccine supplies.

About 17 per cent of the world depend on Covid-19 vaccines manufactured in India.

The Indian government has reported a dire situation, with the country witnessing the worst crisis, any nation across the globe has suffered.

Hospitals in the country, which is an international medical hub, with good medical technology and personnel are currently reporting an overflow of patients in critical state.

A number of patients die gasping for air without being attended to at the facilities, which are also facing an acute shortage of oxygen.

Crematoriums in the country are also overwhelmed, with bodies of those who succumb to the virus being cremated on makeshift crematoriums along the streets.

Yesterday, India reported a total of 353, 991 new cases and 2, 812 Covid-19 related deaths, the highest caseload for the fifth day. So far, it has recorded more than 17 million Covid19 cases and 195,123 deaths.

Only 1.6 per cent of India's more than one billion people have been vaccinated so far. Health officials and experts in India have linked a surge in infections to new variants of Coronavirus.

The director of the National Center for Disease Control Sujeet Kumar Singh has confirmed that over 24,000 mutations in the virus had been recorded.

Africa CDC Deputy Director Dr Ahmed Ogwell told The Standard in an exclusive interview that it is hard to predict the situation in India that continues to hurt under a deadly coronavirus wave.

Dr Ogwell said the policy by India to stop exports by Serum Institute of India (SSI) has disrupted vaccines access in Africa.

“The link to the crisis in India is still not clear and we await to hear from the Indian Government regarding access to SII vaccines. That’s the key item,” said Dr Ogwell.

He says that Africa CDC has now focused on acquiring 400 million doses of Johnson and Johnson vaccines.

“220 million doses, out of 400 million doses will be accessed in 2021, with the rest accessed next year,” added the deputy director.

But CAS Dr Mercy Mwangagi in an interview with KTN News Checkpoint said the government was determined to ensure everyone receives their second dose, irrespective of the situation.

Earlier, the US State Department had denied India raw materials for the production of vaccines, on grounds that it was focusing on vaccinating the American people first.

The decision meant that vaccine makers around the world, including Serum Institute of India, faced a shortage of material to manufacture Covid-19 vaccines, and would force them to source elsewhere.

But following the crisis, the Serum Institute of India requested the US to lift this export ban which US President John Biden Sunday said the ban had partially been lifted in a bid to assist the country manage what is quickly escalating the global health crisis.

Biden’s administration noted that it will also supply India with therapeutics, ventilators, rapid diagnostic testing kits and personal protective equipment.

“Just as India sent assistance to the United States as our hospitals were strained early in the pandemic, the United States is determined to help India in its time of need,” Emily Horne, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council, as quoted in New York Times.

In one of his tweets, the country’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi said plans are underway to set up 551 oxygen generation plants, in every district to guarantee adequate supply of the essential drug in treating Covid-19.

The US is said to have identified sources of specific raw material required for India to manufacture the Covishied vaccine - the Indian version of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine.

Dr Eric Osoro, a researcher working with Washington State University Global Health-Kenya said the distribution of vaccine will be affected.

He said though Indian government is still producing the vaccine, it will not be available for use outside India.

“The situation in India is worrying, at a time most countries have not reached optimal vaccination to create herd immunity. This is more likely to affect Kenya and low income countries, depending on Covax facility,” Dr osoro said.

He added “India will still produce the vaccine but many may not be available out of India."

Last month, India temporarily banned exportation of Covid-19 vaccines, following a surge of cases in the country.

Kenya had received 1.02 million doses of Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine of which more than 826,000 doses have been administered.

Initially, Kenya had ordered 24 million doses of the vaccine, through Covax facility. It received a total of 1.02 million through Covax facility, in addition to 100,000 doses given in kind, by India government.

Last month, the country received 75,000 doses of Russian manufactured Sputnik V vaccine, but it was banned by the state, as it had not undergone full pre-authorization.

On April 16, 2021, Adar Poonawalla, CEO SIII tweeted on his account, appealing to the US to lift the embargo of raw material exports, to ramp up vaccine production.

But Biden did not reveal sharing of Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine doses, of which the US has tens of millions in stock.

The Director of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, dr. Anthony Fauci said sending extra vaccines to India was on the negotiation table, though he did not state timelines.

According to Bloomberg, more than 1 billion doses have been administered across 172 countries, enough to fully vaccinate 6.6% of the global population. However, countries with the highest incomes are getting vaccinated about 25 times faster than those with the lowest.