From the slow plod, it has become a steady trot on vaccination over the last few days, and, on Friday, India clocked its highest number yet with nearly 99 lakh people inoculated (as of 9:45 pm).
By the Centre’s own estimate, the country needs to vaccinate at least 90 lakh people a day for the rest of the year to be able to cover its eligible population of over 900 million.
But this is the first time the jabs have hit such a high. And, Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya was quick to seize the moment with a tweet: “Congratulations to the citizens as India today administers historic 90 lakh #COVID19 vaccines until now - and still counting!.”
UP, Karnataka lead
Having overcome the struggle of vaccine supplies and hesitation, States are jabbing away, demanding more supplies from the Centre to cover their eligible population. On Friday, Uttar Pradesh led with over 25 lakh vaccinations, followed by Karnataka (10 lakh), Maharashtra (9 lakh-plus), West Bengal (over 5 lakh), and Gujarat, Rajasthan, Bihar and Kerala (over 4 lakh doses, each).
The week ends with India clocking over 62 crore vaccinations, and with about 4 crore vaccines still available with the States.
Serum Institute’s Covishield accounted for over 54 lakh of the supplies, with Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin contributing the rest. In fact, States are attempting to get back to some level of normalcy, including opening schools, in a graded manner, as Delhi and Gujarat, for instance, recently announced.
Muted third wave?
The improved pace of inoculation and vaccine supplies come even as health administrators brace for a possible third wave, though some public health voices indicate that it could be less devastating than the second. Treading cautiously, experts point out that one swallow (or 90-lakh a day, in this case), does not a summer make. But they are hopeful that increased sero-positivity across the country and vaccinations will help blunt a third wave, provided a virulent variant does not emerge. The Delta variant had caused the surge in the northern States and continues to do so in Kerala and Maharasthra still.
No more sitting ducks
Epidemiologist Jayaprakash Muliyil says, “We are not sitting ducks any more as we were in January this year.” Further, he adds, “How many vaccinations we should do is a million dollar question. All that science today says is that natural infection imparts better and long-standing immunity than vaccination. By current evidence, a large number has been infected already. The fall in cases in Delhi as well as many other States was also because of infections that have already happened. Kerala, on the other hand, will have to depend on vaccination to bring down the disease burden. I use the word disease burden carefully because there may be incidence of corona positivity even after vaccination. That has no consequence because people are not going to die.”
Chandrakant Lahariya, public policy and health systems expert, points out: “Some North and Central States with high sero-positivity may experience only a very small and localised next wave, if at all.” In any case, he adds, “with vaccination, hospitals are unlikely to be overwhelmed, and therefore focus has to be on strengthening the overall health system.”
Another mitigating factor is that five States are already in the exclusive one-crore-plus club, where as many people have completed both their doses. They include Rajasthan (covering 29 per cent of its population), Gujarat (23 percent), Maharashtra (16 per cent), West Bengal (15 per cent) and Uttar Pradesh (8 per cent). The double-dosed population gives administrators some more confidence especially with the upcoming festive season.