On 27 February this year, in Maharashtra, about 40 thousand doses of Covid vaccine were dumped in the garbage can. Not only this, in the next five days, a further 240,000 doses of the vaccine were wasted.
The reason behind the dumping of the Covid vaccine doses on such a large scale is because of they have remained unused past their expiry date. Of the total, around 200,000 doses of Covid vaccine were dumped by private medical service providers.
Vaccine wastage was highest in the three suburbs of Mumbai and Parel while, during the last one week at five vaccination centers in Pune, 2,806 Covishield doses had to be discarded after their expiry date.
Till end of last year Maharashtra was one of the ten states in the country that have a lower than ational average vaccination rate of 86% first dose vaccination among beneficiaries and 53% fully vaccination rate among 18 plus. Some of the worst performing districts in the state include, Thane, Nashik, Jalgaon, Ahmednagar, Nanded and Solapur. However, metro cities like Pune, Mumbai and Kolhapur lag in second dose due beneficiaries.
Within Maharashtra, by mid-November last year, vaccination against Covid-19 in 22 out of 35 districts in Maharashtra was still below the state average according to a report of the public health department. Of these, the average first dose vaccination in eight districts was below 60%.
The wastage of vaccine doses being reported in the state now is very ironical given that not too long ago there was shortage of Covid vaccine doses being reported all over India, including Maharashtra. The sad aspect of this problem is that neither the state government nor private sector hospitals are finding any way to stop the wastage of lakhs of doses of the Covid vaccines.
According to the records of the last two months, the number of people getting vaccinated for Covid has been decreasing but according to sources in the state health department there may also be something wrong in the cold chain maintained for storing the vaccines.
If this situation continues, there is a possibility that within the next few days, lakhs of more Covid doses may have to be thrown away in Maharashtra. A hospital in Chembur in Mumbai said that 12500 vials of Covid vaccine expired on March 5. However, the Civil Hospital in Pune says it had donated around 50,000 doses to the private sector before the expiry date to ensure it is not wasted. But, it is unlikely that all these Covid vaccine vials will get used in such short period of time. A similar picture of wastage of vaccine vials and doses is being seen at many vaccination centers around the state.
In order to tackle this problem, emphasis has being laid on donating the vaccine vials to more and more centers within the time limit of its lifespan. But, while talking to the media about this, Dr. Pradeep Vyas, Additional Secretary, State Health Department said that if the maximum loss of dosage is happening in the private sector, then there needs to be greater coordination at the administrative level between vaccine manufacturers and service providers.
Due to the increase in the number of Covid vaccination centers in the state, a large number of doses of Covid vaccine are being delivered to them, but there is no system of monitoring how they are storing or using them. The officials of the Health Department team say that they found that more doses of the indigenously produced Covaxin are being wasted than Covishield.
The reason for this may be that Covishield was the as the first vaccine to be administered to the population when vaccination was started in March last year. Covaxin was available for use only much later and apparently many have failed to take the second dose as originally prescribed due to the pandemic waning and people being less worried about Covid. This has resulted in wastage of large number of doses of Covaxin as compared to Covishield.
According to Lata Nigde, a nurse at a vaccination center in Pune the vaccine has to be used within four hours after opening the vial otherwise it gets wasted.
“The number of people taking the first dose of Covishield is high. Therefore, after opening one vial, ten people can be vaccinated. At the same time, the number of people taking Covaxin is less. If you open that vial, usually it is difficult to find the ten people to take it. So we are in a dilemma whether to open the vial or not and we cannot return the vials unopened either as it will slow down the vaccination rate. If we keep it for too long then it expires and gets wasted.”
Anti-Covid vaccination was started on 16 January last year across the country including Maharashtra. Initially this vaccination campaign was limited to health workers and frontline workers. Then from March 1 last year, the vaccination program for senior citizens was started. Since then the campaign has been expanded in a phased manner.
Vaccination against Covid-19 in 22 out of 35 districts in Maharashtra was still below the state average late last year according to a report of the public health department. Of these, the average first dose vaccination in eight districts is below 60%.
It is above 80% in 13 districts, including Mumbai, Pune, Bhandara, Sindhudurg and Gondia. The state’s average first dose vaccination coverage is 76.01% and it is 37.09% for the second dose in November last year. A total of 14 districts have registered first dose coverage between 61% and 76%.
Now children of 15 to 18 years have also been included under the vaccination campaign. During this phase, it is being seen that in Maharashtra, teenagers are usually being given doses of Covaxin as it is considered to have fewer side effects among younger populations.
According to Maharashtra’s State Immunization Officers to overcome the problem of wastage more vaccination centers will be set up in schools and colleges soon. This will reduce the amount of vaccine wasted after the vial is opened.
As the Covid pandemic weakens and the number of people requiring hospitalization goes down there are also reports of PPE kits and masks being spoiled on a large scale and being thrown away. A few months ago, there were reports from Daund tehsil of Pune district that garbage bags filled with PPE kits and masks was brought to a jaggery factory there and used as fuel.
Shirish Khare has been associated with rural journalism for a long time and has been continuously reporting on the economic, social and health impacts of rural life during the Corona pandemic.