India’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign has scaled up substantially in the last two days, a boon in the fight against the pandemic.
Wednesday saw almost ten lakh shots administered and Thursday almost eleven lakh given out. This marks a significant increase from the recent average of approximately five lakh doses given out a day. The uptick in vaccinations comes after the Government permitted private hospitals with the requisite infrastructure to join in its vaccination campaign against COVID-19.
As of Thursday, India has administered 1.7 crore vaccine doses. This includes 68.4 lakh healthcare workers and 60.2 frontline workers receiving their first doses; 14.9 lakh senior citizens and 2.2 lakh people with specific comorbidities receiving their first doses; and more than 30.8 lakh healthcare workers and 54,177 frontline workers receiving their second doses. Those at heightened risk due to COVID-19, such as seniors (aged sixty and over) and those with comorbidities in the 45-59 age bracket, accounted for more than fifty percent of vaccines provided on Wednesday and Thursday this week.
This week saw a boost for Covaxin, India’s indigenously-manufactured vaccine candidate by Hyderabad, Telangana-headquartered firm Bharat Biotech. In interim phase-III trials, the vaccine showed promising results with data indicating an efficacy of almost 81 percent. “Covaxin demonstrates high clinical efficacy trend against COVID-19 but also significant immunogenicity against the rapidly emerging variants,” said Bharat Biotech chairperson and managing director Krishna Ella.
Vaccinating more than 1.3 billion people against COVID-19 is, of course, a mammoth task. Thus far, India appears to be making significant headway, expanding its vaccination campaign in recent days to encompass a broader range of people. This comes as multiple states report increases in daily new COVID-19 cases though, as The Wire reports, “experts agree that a national wave seems less likely than multiple regional ones. The government has responded by pushing states to distribute and administer vaccine doses faster.”
As my colleague Nicholas Parry wrote for Health Issues India previously, “ensuring access to the vaccine must be of the utmost importance once it is developed. As a highly infectious disease the virus will still pass among the population if only a partial segment of the population are granted access. Likewise if only some countries are receiving the vaccine in significant quantities, international travel could once again allow the virus to resurge.
“Herd immunity — particularly in a country with a population as vast as India’s — can only be achieved without devastating loss of life through vaccination campaigns. The production of an effective vaccine is only the first step in this. Ensuring equal access to the vaccine will be the determining factor in whether we truly put a stop to COVID-19.”
Such sentiments are prescient given the ongoing row over vaccine nationalism globally, with wealthier nations ‘hoarding’ more than one billion doses more than they need to the detriment of less-economically developed countries. India is thus far positioned at the centre of the global vaccination campaign. As I wrote previously, “India has long been anticipated to assume a centre stage in the global vaccination campaign against COVID-19, being home to the world’s largest manufacturer of vaccines – the Serum Institute of India (SII). It has earned the title ‘pharmacy of the world’ owing to its voluminous exports of pharmaceutical products.” It has swiftly embraced vaccine diplomacy as an international affairs strategy. As stated by Brian Wahl of the (Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, “India’s vaccine sector will likely play a critical role in providing affordable COVID-19 [vaccines] to countries that might not have access [to the vaccine] otherwise.”