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Is India Running Out Of Vaccine Doses?

A public notice hangs outside a vaccination center notifying of  vaccine shortages, in Mahim, in Mumbai, India, on Thursday.
Satish Bate
Hindustan Times via Getty Images
A public notice hangs outside a vaccination center notifying of vaccine shortages, in Mahim, in Mumbai, India, on Thursday.

MUMBAI — About 100 vaccination centers abruptly shut down Friday in India's financial capital, Mumbai, amid a shortage of doses and as the country confirmed its highest daily jump in coronavirus cases since the pandemic began.

People who had appointments to get their shots arrived to find printouts taped to hospital gates warning them that vaccines had run out. They vented anger and posted pleas for help on social media.

At least half a dozen Indian states are reporting similar shortages. The eastern state of Odisha closed 700 of its vaccination centers earlier this week and said it had supplies available for only two days' worth of shots in its remaining facilities.

Meanwhile, coronavirus infections are surging in India. On Friday, India's Health Ministry confirmed nearly 132,000 new cases — more than on any other day since the pandemic began. The death toll — 780 — was the highest in five months.

The Indian government denies any shortages. In a tweet late Thursday, Health Minister Harsh Vardhan called on the public to "put an end to the fear-mongering." He said 19 million more vaccine doses were "in pipeline."

India is home to the world's largest vaccine producer, the Serum Institute of India, and the country has administered so far. That's still less than 6% of India's population of nearly 1.4 billion people.Experts say protecting everyone through vaccination will take years.

With this latest surge in infections, India has in recent weeks diverted some of the Serum Institute's exports for use domestically. Other countries have complained that their vaccine orders from India have been delayed. Earlier this week, Serum said its production was "very stressed" and that it needs more funding from the Indian government to meet demand.

Shortly before midnight Thursday, a municipal official in Mumbai tweeted a list of the city's vaccination centers with 99 of them marked in red indicating that those would be closed the next day. Even those slated to open Friday might exhaust their stocks early, he warned.

India's COVID-19 caseload plummeted to a record low in February but has skyrocketed since. Epidemiologists have attributed the recent spike in infections to lax physical distancing, lagging compliance with mask mandates — and, possibly, new variants.

Authorities have imposed night curfews in Mumbai, New Delhi and several other large cities. Large gatherings are banned. But most restaurants, shops — even cinemas — remain open in much of the country.

Migrant laborers are reportedly packing into trains and buses to try to leave big cities for their native villages ahead of possible local lockdowns.

Officials have held off declaring a strict nationwide lockdown, in part because of what happened last spring: India's economy shrank nearly 24% under nationwide restrictions and there were cases of starvation among the poor.

NPR producer Sushmita Pathak contributed to this report.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Lauren Frayer covers India for NPR News. In June 2018, she opened a new NPR bureau in India's biggest city, its financial center, and the heart of Bollywood—Mumbai.