New Delhi: A total of 176 people who received the Covid-19 vaccine died in the first 71 days of India’s immunisation drive, between 16 January and 27 March, according to Union Health Ministry data accessed by ThePrint.
A Health Ministry official, however, stressed that nothing had been found so far to link the deaths to the vaccinations.
Health experts said data about deaths and adverse events following immunisation (AEFIs) reported during the vaccination drive need to be viewed with discretion, by weighing the pros and cons and taking a conscious decision in the larger public interest.
Through it all, they add, the government should maintain a transparent flow of information with the public.
Over 6 crore doses of the Covid vaccines — 6,11,13,354 to be exact — were administered between 16 January and 27 March.
Since both the vaccines being administered in India (Covishield and Covaxin) work on a two-dose regimen, this figure doesn’t convey the exact number of people vaccinated, but only the number of doses administered.
The fatality count of 176 translates into one death for roughly every 3.4 lakh doses administered.
Speaking to ThePrint, the Union Health Ministry official quoted above said the 176 fatalities “are the total number of deaths that have been reported from across the country” in that period. “There is no clarity yet on how many of these are causally linked to vaccinations. That decision will be taken by a committee of experts,” the official added.
Between 16 January and 27 March, a total of 18,969 cases of AEFI were reported on the CoWin portal, which was set up to coordinate the vaccination drive.
This means there were 31 cases of AEFI reported for every 1,00,000 doses of vaccine administered. Of these, 18,305 events were categorised as minor, 268 as severe, and 396 as serious.
India started vaccinations from 16 January, first targeting health and frontline workers, before opening up the exercise to senior citizens and people with comorbidities aged 45-59 years from 1 March. The third phase of vaccination, beginning 1 April, saw the inclusion of all those aged 45 and above.
This data, therefore, only reflects deaths and AEFIs in the first two categories of recipients.
The government has set up a group of experts to conduct causality assessment of AEFIs following Covid-19 vaccination.
On 17 March, the health ministry revealed the results of the assessment done in eight cases where vaccine recipients had died, saying three “have been found to have consistent causal association to vaccination, four cases have been found to have inconsistent causal association to vaccination (coincidental) & one case was found unclassifiable”.
In two of the cases, the ministry said there was “biological plausibility” of a link between vaccine and the cause of death. However, for all three, the panel found that “temporal relationship is consistent but there is insufficient definitive evidence for vaccine causing event”.
Highest number of deaths reported in Andhra
Of the 176 deaths, 79 took place in hospital while 97 occurred before the patient could be hospitalised, the health ministry data state.
Andhra Pradesh reported the most number (19) of deaths followed by Kerala (16), West Bengal (15) and Maharashtra (15).
Smaller states and union territories have reported more cases of AEFIs per lakh doses. Dadra and Nagar Haveli (776) tops the chart, followed by Mizoram (715), Goa (478), Sikkim (378), Arunachal Pradesh (310), Meghalaya (242) and Himachal Pradesh (130). The number was 65 for Delhi.
Among the bigger states, Kerala tops with 115 AEFIs reported per 10 lakh doses administered, followed by Karnataka at 71, Haryana at 59, and Telangana at 56.
The ministry official quoted above declined to share disaggregated information about the percentage of AEFIs and deaths reported among the recipients of the two different vaccines.
As part of AEFI surveillance, all states need to mandatorily perform an RT-PCR test on those who have died or have been hospitalised. There is also a verbal autopsy form that needs to be filled with details from the treating physicians, and histopathological tests that have to be performed after death.
Dr Anand Krishnan, professor for community medicine at AIIMS, said “while we evaluate AEFIs/deaths it is an epidemiological challenge to get data of deaths for various age groups with or without vaccination”.
“However, if we assume that there are x excess deaths because of vaccination, we have to weigh the pros and cons and and take a conscious decision balancing larger public good against minuscule private harm. So long as this is done in a transparent manner, with all available information in the public domain … it is a decision of the community,” he added.
“The government is a proxy for community. However, at the same time, there should be compensation for those suffering that miniscule private harm.”
Rajasthan has vaccinated 52% of senior citizens
By 31 March, the top three states/UTs in terms of vaccination coverage of senior citizens were Ladakh (82 per cent), Tripura (59 per cent) and Rajasthan (52 per cent). Gujarat had vaccinated 42 per cent of its senior citizens by then, and Kerala 33 per cent. Karnataka, Jharkhand, Goa, and Jammu & Kashmir have each vaccinated 24 per cent of their senior citizens, while the number was 19 per cent for Maharashtra, which has been leading the Covid infection surge amid the second wave.
Among the other poor performers are Tamil Nadu at 9 per cent, Punjab (which also has a very high mortality rate) at 7 per cent, and Telangana at 10 per cent.
Data shows that the maximum wastage of Covisheld happened in Tamil Nadu, where a little over 10 per cent of the doses could not be administered, while the maximum waste of Covaxin happened in Assam, where 16.1 per cent could not be used.
Edited by Sunanda Ranjan