A billion reasons to celebrate

India celebrated the milestone of administering one billion Covid-19 vaccine doses on Thursday, with the government promoting the achievement in song and video even as a recent drop in inoculations worries healthcare providers.

After a slow beginning in the middle of January, India's immunisation campaign has covered three-quarters of its 944 million adults with at least one dose but only 31 per cent with two.

The government wants all adults to get vaccinated this year.

China is the only other country to administer over a billion vaccine doses.

The administering of one billion doses - given the unknown and unpredictable nature of the coronavirus, the scale and intensity of the pandemic and the challenges surrounding manufacturing, distribution and delivery - represents a significant effort on the part of the Indian government.

"India scripts history," Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted. "We are witnessing the triumph of Indian science, enterprise and collective spirit of (1.3 billion) Indians."

Mr Modi marked the occasion by interacting with healthcare workers and a security guard at a government hospital in New Delhi.

The health ministry announced musical and other programmes across the country and special illuminations of national monuments including a colonial-era jail.

Nearly 90 per cent of the vaccines administered in India have come from the Serum Institute of India (SII), which produces a licensed version of the AstraZeneca drug.

SII has more than tripled its capacity since April and can now produce 220 million vaccine doses a month.

SII has also slowly resumed exports for the first time since April, when the government stopped all overseas sales to meet domestic demand as infections rose dramatically.

The World Health Organisation (WHO), which relies heavily on India for supplies to its global vaccine-sharing platform COVAX, congratulated the country for reaching the landmark.

"India's progress must be viewed in the context of the country's commendable commitment and efforts to ensure that these life-saving vaccines are accessible globally," said Ms Poonam Khetrapal Singh, regional director WHO South-East Asia.

COVAX partner UNICEF also congratulated India and said it looked forward to "hearing details about the expected timeline and volumes of supplies to be made" to the global facility.

New Delhi has been annoyed by the WHO's repeated delay in adding India's own Covaxin shot to the world body's emergency-use listing, something both parties discussed this week as well as exports.

India has reported 34.1 million Covid-19 cases and more than 452,000 deaths, most during a second wave of infections of the Delta variant between April and May.

A "sizeable number of people in India have not taken their second dose by the due date despite adequate supplies, the health ministry said on Tuesday, as new infections fell to about 15,000 - the lowest since early March.

Daily shots have averaged five million this month, a fifth of September's peak, though states are sitting on record stocks of more than 100 million as domestic output of the AstraZeneca vaccine soars.

Vaccine availability in India has largely stabilised as new manufacturing facilities come online.

SII has said it will provide 2.2 million doses of Covishield this month.

Bharat Biotech is expected to have six million Covaxin doses ready and around six million doses of Zydus Cadila's three-dose DNA vaccine - ZyCoV-D - are also expected.

Despite the current low number of infections, ministry officials have been urging people to get vaccinated fast, especially as the ongoing festival season means family gatherings and mass shopping, raising the risk of a new wave of infections.

One of the factors for the lower inoculations is the relatively long three-month gap India mandates between doses of AstraZeneca vaccine - the main shot being deployed.

The gap means there are large swathes of India's population that could be still vulnerable to Covid infections, potentially triggering outbreaks.

A Bloomberg report cites health experts' views that the urgency to get vaccinated has also been reduced by the low number of daily new cases.

In many rural areas, handouts in government-sponsored welfare programmes were tied to having just one shot, while no such benefits are attached to getting the second dose on time.

Moreover, some rural residents need to travel long distances to gain access to vaccinations.

Despite fewer people venturing to take the second dose, corporate leaders in India have praised the turnaround of an immunisation drive that was slow to get going, first due to hesitancy among those initially eligible for vaccination and later due to supply shortages.

"Our vaccination programme has indeed picked up pace," Mr Sanjiv Mehta, the head of Hindustan Unilever, India's largest consumer goods company, told Bloomberg.

"We are hopeful that as a nation we can avoid further disruption from the spread of the virus."

Reuters, AFP

"Our vaccination programme has indeed picked up pace. We are hopeful that as a nation we can avoid further disruption from the spread of the virus."

- Mr Sanjiv Mehta, head of Hindustan Unilever


அதற்குள்ளாகவா? இந்தச் செய்திகளையும் படிக்கலாமே!

இந்தச் செய்திகளையும் படிக்கலாமே!