India will miss its vaccination target
- With a dip in daily Covid-19 vaccinations, supply constraints and vaccine hesitancy remain key challenges
India’s coronavirus vaccination drive is hobbling once again. In the seven days till Sunday, the number of doses delivered daily on average was 3.5 million – a long way from the peak of 5.8 million a day in the week after June 21. The country’s vaccination rate surged to record levels when the Union government brought the programme back under its control, taking over a chaotic purchase mechanism, offering free doses to all adults, and allocating 75% of supplies to states. Several other factors too helped boost the drive — the second wave of infections relented, allowing more people to come forward, and supply bottlenecks were eased, helping states open up more vaccination centres. The pace, it appeared then, was on a steady trajectory that, if built up to eight to 10 million jabs a day, could have potentially met the government’s goal of vaccinating all adults by the end of 2021.
Instead, there has been a dip and meeting the target appears almost impossible. Vaccination trends as well as remarks from some states suggest two of the persistent problems continue to exist — unreliable supply and high levels of hesitancy. Over the last week, reports from Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Delhi have suggested that vaccination centres were closed due to lack of doses. At the same time, wide variations remain in how different groups of people have taken up vaccines – people in India’s urban centres are close to twice as more likely to be vaccinated, but fewer women still have got jabs than men. Health care workers on the front lines, especially in smaller towns and villages, have also found widespread misinformation around the safety and efficacy of vaccines as being significant hurdles to people coming forward.
The slowdown reinforces the need for vaccine-makers to continue expanding production since delays can impact population immunity. It also brings back focus on the need for more vaccines to be approved and introduced in the market. Later this week, India’s vaccine drive will complete six months and the country still continues to rely largely on two manufacturers. But the most persistent issue may be vaccine hesitancy, especially in rural India. These regions are normally disadvantaged in terms of infrastructure and testing penetration and it is crucial to ensure they are protected, if and when there is a next wave. India will need to persuade those left behind, particularly those in the 45-plus age group, who should have by now been entirely vaccinated.