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How India reached 1 billion vaccinations

How India reached 1 billion vaccinations
There’s a worrying gap between those who received the first dose and those who are fully immunised

India administered a billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines on Thursday, passing a significant milestone months after witnessing a crushing second wave of the pandemic that left scores dead.

The country has administered a single dose of Covid-19 vaccines to three-fourth of its total eligible population, while only about 30 per cent of this population is fully immunised.

With a population of nearly 1.4 billion people, India is only the second country after China to have inoculated over a billion people. China crossed this landmark in June this year.

“This day of 21 October 2021 has been recorded in history,” declared India’s prime minister Narendra Modi via video conferencing while inaugurating a new building in national capital Delhi.

“To combat the biggest pandemic in 100 years, the country now has a strong protective shield of 100 crore vaccine doses. This achievement belongs to India, every citizen of India.”

Mr Modi received a congratulatory message from the World Health Organisation (WHO) chief for the feat.

“Congratulations, prime minister, scientists, health workers and the people of India, on your efforts to protect the vulnerable populations from Covid-19 and achieve vaccine equity targets,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus tweeted.

The vaccination drive, which began in January this year, has not been without its hiccups. India saw an alarming rise in Covid-19 cases in late March, unleashing a second wave in the country that claimed over 400,000 lives, according to conservative government estimates.

The country, at that point, had opened up vaccination drives for adults over 45 years. The federal government had attempted to address the alarming rise by trying to ramp up vaccinations, but found itself facing an acute shortage instead.

A lack of raw materials and a delay in investments for manufacturers increased the challenge of quickening the pace of manufacturing vaccines.

The country’s devastating second wave peaked in April, with a record daily caseload of over 400,000, forcing the world’s biggest vaccine-manufacturing country to halt international supplies.

Though the federal government did not officially acknowledge it, the country had begun facing a vaccine shortage, with large states across India, including Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh and Odisha, temporarily shutting many of their vaccination centres.

Delhi’s state government was forced to limit the number of people getting vaccinated as well.

Mr Modi’s government opened up its inoculation drive to all adults over the age of 18 in May, after a ban on exports.

This roll out, however, was not free of cost, with the federal government telling individual state governments to bolster their vaccine supplies from the market on their own.

It was after India’s Supreme Court intervened, that Mr Modi announced a new government decision to provide free vaccines to the state governments.

The situation has improved drastically since, with Covid-19 cases on the decline and the country’s vaccination rate picking up. A record 25 million doses were administered on 17 September alone to mark Mr Modi’s birthday.

India, helped by declining daily Covid-19 cases, resumed vaccine exports earlier this month. The federal government, declaring an increase in its vaccine supply, is now optimistic that it will be able to cover its international and domestic commitments.

To celebrate its current billion jabs-milestone, the federal health ministry launched a song and film.

The Indian flag will also be hoisted at the country’s historic Red Fort monument in Delhi and the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) said it will light up 100 of its heritage monuments in the colour of the national flag to mark the occasion as well.

While the country’s vaccination campaign in recent months has helped control its outbreak, there still remains a worrying gap between those who received a single shot and those who are fully immunised.

Ramping up the second dose is “an important priority,” VK Paul, the head of the country’s Covid taskforce, said at a briefing last week. “We would like to see this number go up. Complete coverage is absolutely critical,” Dr Paul had said.

Experts have also advised caution, saying the situation on ground would need to be constantly reviewed.

“There can be no written in stone rule — if infections rise drastically, they can again stop exports until there’s enough doses,” said K Srinath Reddy, president of the Public Health Foundation of India, a nonprofit institution.

On Wednesday, India reported over 14,000 fresh Covid-19 cases. Its active cases make up less than 1 per cent of its total caseload of more than 34 million, including over 450,000 deaths, according to the federal health ministry.

Additional reporting from the wires