Despite suspending all exports in April and benefiting from a large vaccine manufacturing industry, India has only covered 4% of its massive population, lagging well behind the majority of the Western world and China, which is deploying approximately 20 million doses each day.
New Delhi officials were overjoyed earlier this week when India set a new single-day record by giving over 8 million Covid-19 vaccines.
Experts believe that even at this breakneck speed, a country just recovering from a disastrous second wave may not be able to prevent a third. They also doubt if this week’s effort, which averaged around 4.6 million doses each day, up from roughly 3 million the week before, will be enough.
Despite suspending all exports in April and benefiting from a large vaccine manufacturing industry, India has only covered 4% of its massive population, lagging well behind the majority of the Western world and China, which is deploying approximately 20 million doses each day. At this rate, some experts believe a third wave may come within months, raising concerns of a repetition of the current nightmare of oxygen shortages in the country.
Given what we know about the supply situation, I don’t believe the recent surge can be sustained “Gautam Menon, a physics and biology professor at Ashoka University who also focuses on epidemic modeling, agreed. “A deliberate effort by certain governments, who may have hoarded dosages, for this reason, appears to have resulted in the single-day surge. We’d need to reach a dosage rate of around 10 million each day.
India has significant obstacles in speeding up its vaccination campaign. Two local producers are presently producing less than 100 million doses each month, which is insufficient to service the country’s approximately 1.4 billion inhabitants. There is also tremendous reluctance to overcome and practical obstacles in accessing most of India’s rural, where more than two-thirds of the population lives.
Nonetheless, Prime Minister Narendra Modi must hope that the new high will provide the vaccination programme with the boost it requires. N.K. Arora, the chair of India’s National Technical Advisory Group on Immunization, announced this week that up to 220 million vaccines will be accessible starting next month. He stated that India intends to vaccinate 10 million people every day, citing the country’s experience with latent infections.
Some experts, however, remain suspicious, and have taken to social media to question the rapid increase. It was “an excessive endeavour,” according to Chandrakant Lahariya, a New Delhi-based epidemiologist and co-author of a book on India’s fight against Covid, to set a record that would deplete restricted stockpiles.
Rijo M. John, a health economist and adjunct professor at Kochi’s Rajagiri College of Social Sciences, stated on Twitter that “the chest-thumping must officially cease now,” because India doesn’t have enough dosages to maintain those levels in the short term.
The joy among government officials is reminiscent of India’s coronavirus vaccination programme, which began in January. PM Modi branded his country “the world’s pharmacy” after sending out millions of injections in a short-lived round of vaccine diplomacy. PM Modi’s generosity belied a halting rollout at home, with lower-than-anticipated batches coming off the production lines at the world’s largest vaccine maker, Serum Institute of India Ltd., and India’s other key provider, Bharat Biotech International Ltd. Both businesses have stated that they would increase output beginning in July.
However, Serum’s CEO, Adar Poonawalla, warned last month that shipments aren’t likely to start until the end of the year, which is a setback for many impoverished countries that rely on Indian supply. The launch of Russia’s Sputnik V satellite by India was also delayed. Despite receiving supplies from Russia last month, the local distributor, Dr Reddy’s Laboratories Ltd., is still experiencing small-scale problems.
According to Anubhuti Sahay and Saurav Anand, South Asia economists at Standard Chartered Plc, if a daily dosage rate of approximately 3.2 million is maintained, India would be able to vaccinate 45 percent of its adult population by year’s end and 60 percent by the end of March 2022. They claim that if additional vaccinations become accessible and the rate of vaccination improves by 30%, India would be able to fully immunise 55 percent of its population by 2021.
In an interview on Wednesday, Aparna Mukherjee, a senior scientist at the Indian Council of Medical Research, the country’s major research body, said, “We’re a huge country, we’ve got a lot of people to vaccinate.” It would be “wishful thinking” to have everyone vaccinated before the third wave, she added, but efforts are being made to inoculate the most susceptible.
Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, the South Asian country’s foreign minister, said in an interview with Bloomberg on Tuesday that the country intends to add six additional vaccines to its arsenal in the “coming months,” including Sputnik V. He blamed raw vaccine material constraints on Europe and the United States, and stated that helping India scale production is the key to increasing global coverage. “If India is to succeed, the United States and Europe must take the lead.”
Even with the increase, coverage has been spotty across the country. According to Standard Chartered, vaccination rates in India’s top five states, which account for over half of the country’s GDP, are lower than the national average. The pace is considerably slower in India’s vast countryside.