India has reported more than 20 million coronavirus cases, adding more than 2.6 million new cases in the past week alone. Here, women wait to refill empty oxygen cylinders in New Delhi. Oxygen shortages are blamed for deaths at even the best-equipped urban hospitals in India. Amal KS/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
India has reported more than 20 million coronavirus cases, adding more than 2.6 million new cases in the past week alone. Here, women wait to refill empty oxygen cylinders in New Delhi. Oxygen shortages are blamed for deaths at even the best-equipped urban hospitals in India. Amal KS/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

India Crosses 20 Million COVID-19 Cases As Critical Shortages Worsen

India has now reported more than 20 million coronavirus infections, including nearly 3.5 million people who are actively being treated for COVID-19. The country's health system is in a state of collapse as hospitals and clinics face dire shortages of beds and lifesaving supplies.

In just the past week, India has seen its COVID-19 cases jump by 2,646,526 — a figure that, if it stood alone, would currently make India the 14th worst-hit nation in the world, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. On April 27, the government reported 17,636,307 total cases; by Tuesday, the number had risen to 20,282,833, according to NPR.

As alarming as the recent figures are, experts say they are almost certainly an undercount — possibly by a whole lot.

"At this pace of infection, India is probably only detecting 3 or 4% of its cases," says Chris Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington. "So we're talking about every day, maybe 5 million infections a day in India right now. That's a huge number."

Photo: AP
Photo: AP

Oxygen shortages are blamed for deaths at even the best-equipped urban hospitals. On Saturday, in the capital New Delhi, 12 patients died at Batra Hospital after the facility ran out of medical oxygen. A tanker delivery had arrived just 90 minutes late.

On Saturday, India expanded COVID-19 vaccine eligibility, theoretically allowing everyone over 18 to register to get the potentially lifesaving shots. But the country has nowhere near enough vaccine doses for its adult population, and the vaccination effort has slowed across India. Clinics in several states have closed completely due to a lack of supply.

As of Tuesday, nearly 159 million vaccine doses had been administered in a country whose population is nearly 1.4 billion.

As Covid ravages India, the diaspora pledges help

Medical staff attend to a Covid-19 patient in New Delhi on Monday.Rebecca Conway / Getty Images
Medical staff attend to a Covid-19 patient in New Delhi on Monday.Rebecca Conway / Getty Images

After a concerning call with his mother in New Delhi about the gravity of the Covid-19 crisis in India, Priyank Lathwal said he felt an urgent need to help.

Lathwal, a graduate student at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, quickly launched a fund and has, along with Shyamli Badgaiyan, a Harvard Business School student, helped unite 30 Indian and South Asian student groups from across the U.S. to drum up support, according to NBC News.

“I had switched on the news and then my mom called me and said, ‘Things are going really badly,’” Lathwal said. “When that happened I thought that, ‘Well, I need to do something about it.’”

Lathwal’s page, “Help India Breathe,” raises money for oxygen and other supplies. Badgaiyan, who also has Delhi roots, had started a fundraising initiative through the nonprofit Give India’s fundraising page. Together, they raised about $275,000 in six days.

"I was so anxious this last week — there was just so much despair and just sadness and helplessness,” Badgaiyan said. “Ever since I've started doing this I do feel so much — I don't want to say better — but at least like I’m being able to channel some of that anxious energy into something productive.”

A spokesperson for GoFundMe told NBC News that since April 17, fundraisers related to Indian Covid-19 relief have raised more than $6.5 million. These campaigns also have a global reach: GoFundMe calculated that 60,000 donors from 106 countries have contributed so far.

Lathwal, the president of Carnegie Mellon’s Indian Graduate Student Association, said he began hearing from students who were worried about their family members in India. Official numbers released by the Indian government said the country has passed 218,000 Covid-19 deaths, and many experts worry the number could be much higher.

India 'On Brink' as 2nd COVID Wave Devastates Major Cities

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

As India reels from a second wave of COVID-19 infections that is devastating major cities, stockpiles are falling short of surging demand in the country, health experts warn. The country’s mass immunization bid to expand its vaccination drive to all adults is posing to be a herculean task, they say, VOA reported.

India opened vaccinations to those who are 18 years of age and older this month. Although it is the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer, the approximately 70 million shots for COVID-19 being produced per month cannot address the massive needs of the world’s second most populous country, health experts say.

K. Srinath Reddy is the president of the Public Health Foundation of India, a health research and policy development organization based in New Delhi. He said the challenge to meet demands includes groups considered “new entrants,” people between the ages of 18 to 44 years old.

“We are talking about 595 million people. So, we are talking of 1.2 billion doses,” he told VOA. “It’s a huge task and our vaccine stocks currently do not measure up anywhere near that.”

Several states have said they cannot expand the drive because they are already struggling to inoculate older people with higher levels of risk.

Experts say India failed to stockpile enough vaccines or invest early enough in boosting production facilities as it prematurely declared victory against the pandemic during a lull in infections earlier in the year. The government also sent 65 million doses to other countries as part of a “vaccine diplomacy” push.

The vaccine powerhouse was relying on domestically produced vaccines being made by two Indian companies — the Serum Institute of India that is making the Oxford/AstraZeneca shots and a domestically developed vaccine by Bharat Biotech.

The government suspended exports and extended loans last month to build up infrastructure in the two companies as demand began exceeding supply. It has also stepped-up efforts to get vaccines from overseas. The first consignment of Sputnik V vaccines arrived from Russia this week and the vaccine will also be produced with local partners, but those doses could take months to reach the market. The government has said it will also grant emergency approval for vaccines approved in the United States, Britain, Europe or Japan.

****READ MORE: India COVID-19 Latest News: India may see 3rd Covid wave, weekend lockdowns

Pfizer in talks with India for COVID-19 vaccine

Pfizer (PFE) CEO Albert Bourla said during the company's earnings call Tuesday that efforts to provide India with doses of its coronavirus vaccine are ongoing, but that it's up to the Indian government to bypass a policy requiring local trials before it can be authorized for use there.

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

"India wanted to do additional studies" in order to approve the vaccine, but Pfizer "was not ready to allocate resources" that were tied up in studying other aspects of the vaccine, such as efficacy for children and pregnant women, as well as booster shots, Bourla said.

“We are hopeful they will change this policy about conducting local trials," he added.

In the meantime, the company has pledged $70 million worth of medicines, including an anti-blood clot medication, as India continues to report more than 350,000 cases and 3,000 deaths every day.

The company announced it will increase vaccine production capacity to 3 billion doses for 2022, and is still taking in commitments for this year. Pfizer estimates its 2021 capacity is 2.5 billion doses, of which 1.6 billion have already been committed.

By comparison, competitor Moderna (MRNA) has capped out its production for the year, targeting about 1 billion doses. The two are the only mRNA vaccines being used against the coronavirus.

Global efforts for other platforms have hit a snag, as both AstraZeneca (AZN) and Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) suffered backlash for rare blood clots from their vaccines, and in AstraZeneca's case, the crisis in India has hampered global distribution.

The Serum Institute of India (SII), the largest vaccine maker in the world, has been pressured by the Indian government to circulate more doses domestically. It was central to global distribution efforts through the COVAX facility, the philanthropic joint venture that includes the World Health Organization.

Now, Pfizer is sharing doses through the facility, which targets 92 of the world's low and middle income countries.

"I think the Indian government, which tries very hard and is very careful with the health of their people, will eventually approve the vaccine based on the data we have submitted across the world. We are not ready to devote resources right now to study" the vaccine in a general population, Bourla told Yahoo Finance Tuesday.

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