India Struggles with COVID-19 Vaccination Campaign Amid New Infection, Death Rates
By VOA News April 29, 2021
India set new records again Thursday in COVID-19 deaths and infections as its new vaccination registration program stumbled while millions of voters nonetheless turned out for an election in the state of West Bengal.
Under the weight of a disastrous second surge of the disease, India's efforts to begin registering its 1.4 billion people for inoculations stumbled Wednesday when the government launched a website for all Indians 18 and older to sign up for a vaccination drive that is set to begin Saturday.
Many people flooded social media with complaints, however, that either the website had crashed or they were unable to make an appointment.
The problems with the website come as the health ministry reported a record 379,257 new COVID-19 cases Thursday, including 3,645 fatalities, marking yet another one-day record for fatalities. The new figures have pushed India's coronavirus casualty numbers well over 18.3 million total confirmed cases and 204,832 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.
The second wave of the coronavirus has pushed India's health care system to the brink of collapse, with hospitals at full capacity and an acute shortage of oxygen aggravating an already desperate situation. Many parks and parking lots have been converted into makeshift crematories that are working day and night to burn dead bodies.
Public health experts have blamed the spread on more contagious variants of the virus, plus the easing of restrictions on large crowds when the outbreak appeared to be under control earlier this year.
West Bengal voting
Despite the worsening crisis and soaring temperatures, many of the more than 8 million eligible voters in West Bengal state formed long lines at some of the more 11,800 polling stations Thursday to vote in the eighth and final phase of state elections.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party were criticized over the last few weeks for holding massive election rallies in West Bengal. Health experts have suggested the rallies may have contributed to a record surge in the state, which recorded more than 17,000 new cases over the last day, its highest since the pandemic began.
Other political parties also held rallies in the state.
India's vaccination drive has dragged at a slow pace since it was launched in January, with only 1.7% of the population fully vaccinated. The country has a shortage of COVID-19 vaccines as it struggles with a lack of raw materials needed to manufacture doses.
The international community has responded by shipping critical supplies to India, including ventilators, oxygen concentrators, drug treatments and the raw materials necessary to develop vaccines.
The White House says an initial shipment of medical supplies worth $100 million will begin arriving in India on Thursday, including 1,000 oxygen cylinders, 15 million N95 face masks and 1 million rapid diagnostic tests, along with the raw materials that will allow India to manufacture 20 million doses of the AstraZeneca two-dose vaccine.
The U.S. State Department issued a travel advisory Wednesday urging Americans not to travel to India, becoming the latest country to impose a warning or outright prohibition on visiting the country.
Meanwhile, the head of Australia's drug regulatory agency said Thursday there is no evidence the AstraZeneca vaccine was responsible for the deaths of two people shortly after their inoculations.
Two men in North South Wales state, including one in his 70s, died within days after receiving the vaccine.
John Skerritt, the head of the government's Therapeutic Goods Administration, told reporters the men's deaths are being investigated, but said "the current evidence does not suggest a likely association" between the deaths and the vaccination.
The AstraZeneca vaccine has had a troubled rollout across the world, with many nations suspending its use after reports first surfaced of a severe side effect that combines blood clots with low platelet counts following inoculation, including a handful of deaths.
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