A welcome spike: On India’s COVID-19 vaccination record

The threat of a third wave and new variants make speedy, complete inoculation a priority

Updated - June 23, 2021 12:36 am IST

Published - June 23, 2021 12:02 am IST

India began the week with a record, by administering over 8.6 million doses of vaccine on a single day, an impressive feat even from a global perspective. For most of May, India struggled to deliver over 2 million doses a day and beginning June, managed to hike it to over 3 million doses daily. These are substantial numbers, but inadequate, given that the benefits of mass vaccination would be discernible — in terms of reducing hospitalisation and mortality — only after a large percentage of the population is inoculated. By that metric, India is a global laggard with only 17% of the population covered by at least one dose and less than 4% by two. The U.S., in comparison, has inoculated at least 53% and the U.K. 64% with a single dose. In that light, India on a single day being able to administer over twice the previous weeks’ daily average makes plausible the Centre’s aspiration to inoculate all of India’s adult population by the year-end. So far, about 25% of them have been administered at least one dose and to reach the 944 million adult population, it requires above eight million jabs every day until the year-end.

While India has, as part of its polio vaccination programmes, administered vaccines to millions of children in a day, a one-day record is not evidence that the trend is sustainable. Most States substantially increased their daily count on June 21 but three stand out: Haryana, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh . However M.P., records show, never peaked over five lakh a day until Monday when it nearly quadrupled this number. Haryana’s historic high (and average) has hovered around 1.5 lakh but it more than tripled that on Monday and Karnataka, with a previous high of 2.6 lakh, multiplied that fivefold with 11 lakh jabs. To substantially increase vaccination, both the number of vaccination sessions and doses administered must increase. Some States had organised mass vaccination drives and the rules allowing spot-registration of those between 18-44 years unlike the previous requirement of pre-registration on CoWIN may have helped with the boost. India’s vaccination programme primarily rests on the shoulders of Covishield and by August the numbers of Covaxin are expected to at least equal the monthly supplies of Covishield. Were that to happen, it would help with administering at least between five to six million doses a day and ought to prompt the Government to rethink its policy of a 12-16 week gap between Covishield doses to ensure that more people are fully vaccinated. The threat of a third wave and new forms of the delta variant make speedy, complete inoculation a priority, and this ought to be the driving force of India’s vaccination programme.

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