1 billion doses: No mean feat
Nine months and five days after India’s Covid-19 inoculation programme started, the country crossed a major milestone on Thursday — the billionth shot of the vaccine was administered. This makes India only the second country in the world (after China with 2.2 billion shots delivered) to cross this mark. Three out of every four (75%) adults in India have now received at least one shot of the vaccine, while close to a third (around 31%) are fully vaccinated. The milestone also comes at a time when the recession of the second wave has continued, with new infections at the lowest levels since early March. In all, these numbers present a rather impressive outlook of India’s battle against Covid-19, and must be celebrated, but there’s more to be done in the country’s battle against the virus.
For one, a high rate of vaccination should continue; for the past month, there’s been a consistent decline in this. The seven-day average of daily vaccinations touched a peak of 9.7 million for the week ending September 23. Since then, however, it has dropped nearly 60% to around 4 million shots a day in the past week. This could well come in the way of India meeting its articulated target of fully vaccinating all adults by the end of the year. If India had sustained its shot rate from September-end, then it would have been on course to meet this target; but the recent drop has now pushed the required rate to more than 12 million doses every day till the end of the year. Such a calculation, of course, assumes that the entire adult population will want vaccines, which is an unlikely proposition. Most experts believe that the vaccine drive will hit a ceiling around the 75-80% level. This is because those who wanted to get shots have now done so, and those who still remain away are the ones hesitant. This has been the reason why even western countries have been unable to hit 100% coverage.
It may well be time then, for the country’s health policymakers to start thinking of a similar drive for those under the age of 18 years, and, subsequently booster shots for the most vulnerable sections of the population. India is one month away from the half-year mark of the peak of its second wave — the point from where experts suspect natural immunity starts to wane. This means vaccination-induced immunity will soon be the only weapon to prevent a third wave in the country. With the festive season underway, the timing of the billion-dose celebrations should serve as an important reminder of the distance the country’s vaccination drive still needs to traverse.