India has launched a nationwide Covid-19 vaccination drive but concerns have been expressed about its sustainabilty.
Prime minister Narendra Modi revamped vaccine acquisition procedures after a bungled procurement programme for which his BJP government was castigated. The new measures were to see all Indians vaccinated for free from June 21st onwards.
But opposition parties and public health analysts said that while the government claimed to have achieved a “historic milestone” of administering 8.89 million vaccine doses on that day, the number had dipped to about 5.34 million 24 hours later.
They said that Madhya Pradesh, for instance, had inoculated a record 1.7 million people on Monday, but administered merely 5,000 does on Tuesday, thereby indicating that the single day vaccination spike was a planned image booster by the BJP.
"Hoard [vaccines] on Sunday, vaccinate on Monday and go back to limping on Tuesday," said India's former Congress Party federal finance minister P Chidambaram. This was the secret behind the world record of vaccinations on a single day, he added.
Madhya Pradesh had given 4,098 jabs on Sunday, ramping it up some 414 times the following day to coincide with Mr Modi’s announcement.
Ten of the 28 Indian states that administered record vaccines since the beginning of the week publicised their inoculation achievement via public posters and newspaper advertisements featuring Mr Modi. Seven of the ten have BJP governments.
Assembly elections are scheduled in many of these states, including politically critical Uttar Pradesh, in early 2022.
The BJP federal government has said India’s entire adult population of around one billion will be inoculated against the virus by December, which would necessitate the daily ministering of about 9.7 million vaccine doses. Health experts say this number of doses will not be available from India or abroad.
So far, about 51 million Indians have received two vaccine jabs, the second highest number after China and the US, meaning that just under four per cent of the country's population is fully vaccinated.
Numerous Indian companies are offering discounts on food, household goods and even domestic airline travel to persuade people hesitant about receiving vaccination to take it.
"We feel it is our responsibility to contribute to the national vaccination drive by encouraging more people to go in for it," said Sanjay Kumar, associated with India's largest private airline Indigo.
The lifting of weeks of lockdown in cities and smaller towns and districts across India this week has triggered a reduction in social distancing and wearing of face masks.
This elicited a warning from India's leading virologist, Randeep Guleria, who cautioned that if this continued a third Covid-19 wave was "inevitable", after the devastating second upsurge that erupted in April.
He said a new wave could break out over the next six to eight weeks.
“As we have started unlocking, there is again a lack of Covid-appropriate behaviour, as crowds are building up. We don’t seem to have learnt from what happened between the first and the second wave” said Dr Guleria.