India celebrates billionth Covid-19 vaccine dose following slow start

Huge disparity between partly and fully vaccinated people remains

India has celebrated the milestone of administering its one billionth Covid-19 vaccine dose. Three-quarters of the country's 944 million adults have now received one shot, however only one-third have received two shots. Video: Reuters

 

India on Thursday celebrated administering one billon Covid-19 vaccine doses to its citizens since beginning its inoculation drive against the pandemic in mid-January.

Prime minister Narendra Modi, who marked the occasion with a visit to a government-run hospital in New Delhi, tweeted that India had “scripted history” by inoculating such a large number of people, second only to China.

“We are witnessing the triumph of Indian science, enterprise and collective spirit of [1.3 billion] Indians” he declared.

The federal health ministry, for its part, announced countrywide musical and other cultural programmes and the illumination of various national monuments over the next few days to celebrate this “landmark milestone” in inoculations.

After a sluggish beginning in the first few months, when India faced acute vaccine shortages, it has managed to fully vaccinate some 291 million people – or 30 per cent of about one billion Indians needing inoculation – with two doses. A further 707 million have so far received their first jab.

Mr Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government aims to fully vaccinate all eligible citizens by the end of December, but experts warned that the inoculation drive needed to considerably accelerate over the coming weeks to meet this deadline.

They said that, to achieve this goal, India needed to administer more than 10 million doses daily, a number it has achieved only on six occasions in previous months.

Presently, it averages around 3.6 million doses per day, administered by about 61,000 public and private health centres, but specialists said that much now depended on vaccine availability and overcoming inoculation hesitancy in rural areas where local superstitions dominate.

Remote regions

India has also been delivering Covid-19 vaccines via drones to remote areas in the mountainous northeastern regions bordering Myanmar, and also aims to ferry doses to the Andaman and Nicobar archipelago off the country’s east coast in the Bay of Bengal.

The majority of Indians have been administered the Oxford AstraZenaca vaccine, which is licence-manufactured locally as Covishield, while the remaining population have received the indigenously developed Covaxin and Russian-made Sputnik V doses. Recently, India approved Covishield for people under 18 years of age.

Health activists are concerned over the gender gap in inoculations, as six per cent fewer women have been vaccinated. It’s a particular issue in remote regions where internet access is either poor or non-existent.

India has reported some 34.1 million Covid-19 cases since the pandemic erupted in early 2020 and about 424,000 deaths – the third highest globally after the US and Brazil.

Meanwhile, despite the present low weekly average of 15,322 Covid infections, India’s federal health ministry has warned of a possible third wave of infections, which they cautioned could be sparked by flouting virus protocol measures like wearing masks and maintaining social distancing.