India celebrated the release of its billionth COVID-19 dose on Thursday. This is a significant milestone for South Asia, where the delta variant drove a massive surge in vaccinations earlier this year. However, India’s initial missteps had delayed its inoculation campaign.
According to Our World in Data, around half of India’s nearly 1.5 billion citizens have had at least one shot. Only 20% are fully immunized. Many of these shots were delivered in the last few months after the rollout was stalled in the first half year due to vaccine shortages and issues with the system for rolling them.
Since the beginning of the year, when India was suffering from hundreds of thousands of infections per day, hospitals collapsed and graveyards and crematoriums were overwhelmed, the success of the campaign is being credited with reducing coronavirus cases. Experts warn that India needs to speed up second shots to prevent the outbreak from recurring.
To administer more doses when supplies were low and infections were rising, the country increased the interval between shots from 12 weeks to 16 weeks. This is a strategy that countries such as the United Kingdom use in times of crisis. However, it caused a delay in getting everyone fully immunized.
India uses vaccines that require two doses. V.K. said that ramping up the second dose was “an important priority”. Paul, who is the head of the COVID-19 taskforce in the country, stated last week.
“We would love to see this number increase.” Paul stated that complete coverage is essential.
The country seems to have enough vaccines at the moment to make it work. But, its supply will be closely monitored as it is a major global supplier of shots. It had devastating effects on the poorer countries, who rely heavily on Indian vaccines. Exports were resumed earlier in the month.
The government now believes that India’s growing vaccine supply will be sufficient to meet its domestic and international obligations. Paul stated that both of the main suppliers have increased production. The Serum Institute of India is now producing approximately 220 million doses per month, and Bharat Biotech around 30 million.
Experts agree that the situation with vaccines will continue to be reviewed. K. Srinath Reddy is the president of Public Health Foundation of India.
India has confirmed over 18,400 new cases and 160 deaths on Thursday — a dramatic drop from the May worst days when daily fatalities topped 4,000. According to the Health Ministry, India has seen over 34 million infections and 450,000 deaths. However, these figures are likely to be undercounted.
Even those states that were prone to infection a few weeks back, like Kerala on the tropical Malabar Coast, have been experiencing a steady decline.
Reddy stated that there is comfort in the fact that India has been the most affected by the delta variant. However, this should be balanced with caution. “Even if there are more cases, we don’t expect to see the magnitude of the surge sooner — if it does, it would be quite unexpected.”
India had previously stated that it would vaccinate all eligible adults by year’s end. However, experts warn that the pace of immunizations is still slowing down and will be difficult to achieve this goal. Although the campaign started in January, only 3.5% of the population was fully vaccinated by June.
India celebrated Thursday’s achievement of 1,000,000 shots with great fanfare. It’s also the second-most populous nation in the world. China was the first country to achieve this milestone.
New Delhi had billboards advertising the feat, along with a photograph of Prime Minister NarendraModi. Residents gathered outside a local politician’s home in the capital to enjoy sweets. The moment was commemorated with a song and a film. The Indian flag was also unfurled at New Delhi’s historic Red Fort.
India’s life has returned to normal in recent months. After a 19-month absence, Indian tourists are now allowed to return to India. The country is getting ready for Diwali, the Hindu festival that lights up the skies.
There are concerns that this may be a temporary respite before the storm. Although India has borne the brunt already of the delta variant, it is possible that things could quickly escalate if another variant emerges from the country or elsewhere.
“If the virus changes or becomes different, it alters the dynamics. Paul stated that this could alter everything.