India nears vax milestone: At least 1 jab to 50% adults
- On several fronts, the drive has seen progress – the pace of vaccination has picked up in recent weeks; India’s overall population coverage is now on par with the global average.
A little over seven months since the day India launched its Covid-19 vaccination drive on January 16, the mass inoculation programme is closing in on a major milestone, with nearly half the country’s adult population receiving at least one shot of the vaccine.
On several fronts, the drive has seen progress – the pace of vaccination has picked up in recent weeks; India’s overall population coverage is now on par with the global average. But data shows that there is still a long way to go if India wants to achieve its stated target of vaccinating its entire adult population of 940 million by the end of 2021.
Till Wednesday night, India has administered 602.4 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine to 465.7 million people with 329 million people partially vaccinated and 126.7 million people having received both doses of the vaccine. When seen alongside the country’s projected adult population of 940 million (according to the Census of India’s National Commission on Population), this means that 49.5% of people above the age of 18 years have received vaccine shots – 35% have been partially vaccinated and 14.5% having received both doses.
The proportion is likely to cross the 50% mark as early as Thursday.
The headline number on population coverage, however, glosses over the wide variations in different states.
While Himachal Pradesh is the standout in terms of administering doses to the largest proportion of its adults (97% with at least one shot), it is followed by Uttarakhand (75.3% adults vaccinated with at least one shot) and Kerala (74.2%). Delhi, with 60.4% of estimated adult population having received at least one dose of the vaccine, lies above the national average. At the other end, several high population states such as West Bengal (37.3%), Uttar Pradesh (37.6%), and Bihar (38%) trail far behind the pack.
The milestone comes at a time when the country’s rate of vaccination, which has been patchy at best, has finally settled into high gear. In the past week, an average of 5.2 million doses has been administered across the country every day. While this number is still slightly off peak levels seen in the week ended June 26 when the rate of vaccination touched 6.4 million a day, it has hovered within the 4.9 million-5.5 million range almost throughout August – a significant improvement for the drive which had consistently remained in sub-2 million levels through most of May.
Data shows that the country needs to double the current pace of vaccinations till the end of the year to completely vaccinate all adults by the end of December, a commitment the government has made in a submission to the Supreme Court. In total, India needed to administer around 1.88 billion doses by the end of the year to meet this target. Since 602 million of these have already been administered, that leaves 1.28 billion doses still left in the remaining 128 days in the year, or 10 million doses a day – a feat that has not been achieved on even a single day so far.
Government officials are confident that the pace of vaccinations will accelerate.
“September is a crucial month as things will improve further because of availability of more vaccine doses. We are capable of administering many more vaccine doses in a single day (at least 10 million); and it will happen soon,” said NK Arora, chairman, National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation said on Wednesday.
In absolute numbers, India is second only to China (with 1.98 billion doses administered) in terms of total shots given in a country, but it lags several others in terms of total proportion of people vaccinated – only 33% of the country’s total population (including those under 18) have been vaccinated with at least one dose. This figure is on par with the global average, according to data collated by Our World in Data. However, much of the western world has covered nearly twice their proportion of population. The US, for instance, has administered 364 million shots as of Tuesday night (it is in the third spot in overall doses given), thus covering around 60% of its population. Portugal has covered 82% of its population, Spain 77%, Canada 73% and the United Kingdom 70%.
An HT analysis done on August 4 showed that while the Delta variant of Covid-19, a highly contagious variant of Sars-CoV-2, has led to a massive surge in infections nearly across the world, nations that have high vaccination rates have managed to keep their deaths far lower than in previous waves, while nations in Asia and Africa with low vaccination coverage are struggling to do the same.
This, experts said, is a crucial factor for improving India’s coverage. Should a possible third wave of Covid-19 hit the country, mass vaccination may give large swathes of the population protection from hospitalisation, severe disease, and if things go south, death.
“It’s a very pertinent milestone for the country to cross in our battle against Covid-19. It is equally important that the people of this country get not one, but both doses as quickly as possible because we do not know if or when the third wave can hit us. Mass vaccination is perhaps one of the most important and long-lasting measure we can take that can delay or reduce the impact of a possible third wave,” said Dr Lalit Kant, former head of epidemiology at ICMR.
“But vaccination can’t be the only measure... We still need to wear masks, avoid crowded areas even after being fully vaccinated. This is because new mutations can always take place that can even evade the immunity produced by vaccines. This is where the role of local government comes into play – they need to constantly screen positive results for new variants. Whenever we record new mutations we need to be able to correlate it with the epidemiological picture so we can stay ahead of the virus,” he said.