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Covid shots: India lags in population covered, but ranks third in total jabs

Annapurani. V Chennai | Updated on May 10, 2021

Policy-makers oblivious of the obvious: Experts

India lags in terms of the proportion of population covered by vaccinations but yet in absolute number of doses administered till now it compares well with the rest of the world, show data.

India has administered the third highest number of cumulative doses globally – over 16 crore – until May 6. China tops the list with nearly 30 crore doses, followed by the US with over 25 crore doses, as per data sourced from Bloomberg.

It compares well with other advanced economies such as the UK (5.12 crore), Germany(3.26 crore), and France(2.45 crore). This is despite starting the innoculation programme late — in mid-January — compared to the UK and the US, which started in the end of December.

Better than Asian peers

India also fares better than its Asian counterparts such as Indonesia and South Korea. Indonesia had administered only 2.14 crore doses cumulatively till May 6, whereas South Korea’s number stood at 0.39 crore doses.

However, India comes out poorly when the total does administered per 100 population is considered. The country has vaccinated 10.82 out of every 100 people while Israel’s figure is 120.67, the UAE’s 106.64, the UK’s 71.81, and the US’ 70.97 (as on April 29), per data from Our World in Data.

The lower coverage in India is obviously a factor of its higher population compared to the top performers.

India’s population of 138 crore is over four times the US’, more than twenty times the UK’s and France’s population, and nearly a 160 times Israel’s .

That said, the government ought to have foreseen the second wave and planned on increasing vaccine supplies much ahead than it did, say experts.

Epidemiologist Dr SD Gupta observes that the problem has to do with logistics and vaccine supplies, besides the fact that administrators had to contend with vaccine hesitancy in the early days.

That aside, he says, the trends were clear from earlier this year, and health administrators “should not have been oblivious to the obvious second wave”. Despite being the largest producer of vaccines, India did not plan to produce them in large quantities “due to poor demand forecast and poor anticipation of (the) second wave and its severity,” says Dr Gupta, Chairman of IIHMR University, that focusses on health systems management.

 

Lack of efficiency

Another public health expert pointed to the lack of efficiency in administering vaccines as only 3 crore people (of the total 16 crore administered) have received two doses. And it takes two doses to provide complete protection and take the population towards herd immunity.

In other words, only 38 per cent of the people who could have been fully vaccinated (ie 8 crore) have been covered, compared to Israel at over 96 per cent or US at close to 80 per cent. The Centre’s vaccination policy should focus on getting two doses into people, rather than merely increasing the number of first doses administered, he said.

Public policy and health systems expert, Dr Chandrakant Lahariya, points out that it is not possible to do a head-to-head comparison between countries because they have different parameters in assessing how to vaccinate their people. Besides, their approaches are also different. Countries in Europe and the US focussed on securing supplies and then set about vaccinating their people, as compared to India that opened up its vaccination with great speed and is now shoring up supplies, he observed.

In terms of course correction to increase coverage, he said, the administration needs to prioritise people in the 65 plus age group, and include those in the 45 age group and less, who need it.

(inputs from PT Jyothi Datta in Mumbai)

Published on May 09, 2021

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