Thanks a billion

| Updated on October 20, 2021

Despite initial hiccups, India has excelled in Covid vaccinations. There’s more to do in months ahead

India has done remarkably well to get to one billion Covid vaccine doses in less than 10 months, having roughly covered 75 per cent of the eligible adult population (above 18 years) with the first dose and 25 per cent with the second. It was not too long ago in the summer months that the pandemic was raging and vaccines were in short supply — with a total monthly output of less than 70 million doses, mainly Serum Institute’s Covishield. The average number of vaccinations per day slipped from three million in April to about 1.5 million in May. Barely a quarter of the population had received its first dose. Now, over five million daily vaccinations have become the norm, as monthly production has increased to about 200 million doses (with Covishield accounting for 80 per cent and Covaxin most of the rest), something that seemed very distant in those bleak summer months.

It is no mean feat that health workers have managed to vaccinate populations in remote areas, braving hostile terrain and weather. Workers have encountered recalcitrant populations and talked them out of vaccine hesitancy — now no more or less than in the ‘developed world’. The indigenously developed COWIN app, despite its teething problems, has proved its worth in managing the complex logistics and providing instant digital vaccination certificates to citizens. As vaccine supplies improved from August, a critical mass was vaccinated before onset of the festive season, preventing infection spread. As for the low rates of coverage for the second dose, it is pretty clear that the first dose prevents severe infection. The 80-day gap between the first and second dose for Covishield has perhaps slowed down coverage for the latter but it has ensured that a greater number of people get at least one dose, which offers good protection. If India sustains six million vaccinations a day over the next few months with a supply of over 250 million doses, it should be possible to rapidly raise the number of fully vaccinated. As vaccine supplies improve further by December, India should push forward on its responsibility and commitment to supply to COVAX and help improve vaccination rates in Africa, apart from expanding its neighbourhood Vaccine Maitri diplomacy. After all, no one is safe until everyone is safe.

Meanwhile, the government should move carefully on vaccinating the child population. The successful vaccination roll-out should not blind us to the fact that our public health infrastructure was shown up for its inadequacies. Governments, Centre and State, need to invest more in health facilities. As India celebrates its one-billionth dose today, we should not forget to praise our vaccine companies who rose to the occasion developing indigenous vaccines and producing large quantities ‘at risk’ even before approvals were given. But for them, it is doubtful if India could have managed to cover three-quarters of its large eligible population with at least one dose in just 10 months.

Published on October 20, 2021

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