ECONOMY

A Shot In The Arm For India’s Vaccination Drive, Over 17 Crore Doses Given In August

India further ramped up its vaccination against Covid-19 in August, with monthly doses administered jumping more than threefold since the lowest in May. Yet, the nation’s aim to inoculate all its adult population by the year-end seems far-fetched.

The country administered 17.15 crore jabs in August compared with 12.9 crore in July, a 33% rise, according to data available on the government’s CoWin dashboard. Daily average vaccinations in August rose to 55.3 crore from 41.5 lakh in the preceding month.

Daily inoculation in India exceeded 1 crore twice in August — a feat that was not achieved in the past seven months of the world’s largest Covid-19 vaccination programme.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government had earlier said it expects to fully vaccinate all adults with two doses by 2021-end. But with only four months left, the country needs to significantly increase the rate of administration of doses to cover the roughly 94 crore people by then.

To date, more than 65 crore adults have received vaccine shots in India. But three out of four have only gotten one dose — shown to be not enough to provide sufficient protection against symptomatic disease.

At the improved pace of August, it would take more than seven months to fully vaccinate all those above 18 years of age. To be sure, supplies, too, are expected to improve.

Ever since the federal government reversed its earlier policy that asked states to independently procure vaccine doses for the 18-44 age group, supplies have improved.

A further nudge by the Supreme Court, too, prompted the government to provide a concrete timeline for the orders it has placed and the supply outlook for states.

Besides, the number of vaccination sites in the country has risen. India had around 34,000 centres administering vaccines in July. By August, that more than doubled to 77,140.

India’s most populous states reported an increase in vaccination numbers in August.

Uttar Pradesh saw the biggest uptick with its daily average vaccination at over 7.9 lakh. The state inoculated more than 25 lakh people on three days in August.

Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal, too, saw improvement.

But India’s vast population poses a challenge.

The south Asian nation continues to lag other major economies by per capita vaccine rates and fully-vaccinated population.

In absolute terms, India has administered the highest number of doses in the world after China. But that’s just one part. It has fully vaccinated (both doses) only over 10.5% of its population.

Research has shown that two doses of a vaccine significantly lower chances of a severe disease, hospitalisation and death due to Covid-19. A recent study by Sir Ganga Ram Hospital in New Delhi showed that single doses do not offer enough protection against symptomatic cases.

The findings on lower vaccine effectiveness from a single dose are similar to a larger study funded by the U.K. government, that showed one shot was only 30% effective against the more infectious Delta variant. The effectiveness rose to 67% for two jabs.

A separate research by India’s National Institute of Disaster Management has predicted a surge in cases by October. It said if India fails to boost vaccine coverage, the nation may see 6 lakh daily new cases in a third wave.

That said, as supply of vaccines improve, the pace of inoculation is expected to pick up.

The government expects 135 crore jabs to become available between August and December 2021 — more than double of what it was able to procure from January to July.

Bharat Biotech Ltd., on Sunday, released the first batch of Covaxin from its new manufacturing plant in Gujarat, which has a capacity of 1 crore doses a month.

The government has also granted emergency use approval to Zydus Cadila’s ZyCoV-D vaccine. The three-dose vaccine regime is the first to be approved for the 12-18 age group. Expected to start rolling out in September, Zydus has said it, too, has a manufacturing capacity of 1 crore doses a month.

Besides, Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine and Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot vaccine have been granted approval. But they are not being administered as of now.

If that supply materialises, it will be up to states to hasten administration.

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