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Wealthy countries have faced criticism for hoarding covid-19 vaccine doses, edging out Covax, a World Health Organization-backed initiative aimed at supplying vaccines to the 92 poorest countries. However, even this group has a huge vaccination coverage gap, with countries that made independent arrangements doing much better than those solely dependent on Covax.

Cambodia, Maldives and Mongolia have given at least 130 doses per 100 population, owing to bilateral deals with high-income countries such as the US, China and Japan. Cambodia, one of the poorest countries in Asia, has one of the highest vaccination rates globally. While it received 324,000 Covax doses in March, its vaccination was driven primarily by China's 27 million Sinovac doses. The country has fully vaccinated 76.8% of its 16.7 million population, higher than richer countries such as Canada (73.7%) and South Korea (71%).

In contrast, Ghana, which got the first Covax shipment on 24 February, has administered only 8.6 doses per 100 people so far. African countries, which make up a third of the Covax members’ list, have on average given less than 15 doses per 100 population. Cameroon, Niger and Ethiopia, which relied exclusively on the initiative, have administered fewer than 4 doses per 100 population.

Mired with supply constraints, Covax last month reduced its goal by 25% to supply nearly 1.43 billion doses by the end of 2021. Even that might be difficult unless supply goes up. Till 27 October, 727 million doses have been allocated, and only 417 million doses have been released for shipment to the member nations.

Changing gears

India has accelerated its pace of vaccination in the past seven days, after three weeks of slow progress. It averaged 6 million doses per day in the past week, up from 5.3 million in the prior week. The country has vaccinated 723 million people, or 52.8% of the population, with at least one dose.

Twelve states and union territories have crossed the 1,000 doses per 1,000 people mark. Among these, five states have over 10 million population. Himachal Pradesh continues to lead in vaccine coverage, with 1,212 doses per 1,000 people, followed by Gujarat (1,090), Delhi (1,083), Kerala (1,078), and Jammu and Kashmir (1,059).

Ten states lag the national average of 755 doses per 1,000 population. Four of them, Bihar, Meghalaya, Nagaland, and Punjab have each reported less than 3% increase in cumulative coverage since last week.

In focus: West Bengal

West Bengal is witnessing a rise in the number of covid-19 cases after it lifted restrictions earlier this month for Durga Puja. The state reported over 6,000 cases, crossing the mark for the first time since the first week of July, and up 43.8% from last week.

Around 67% of the state’s active cases are concentrated in five neighbouring districts that make up the metropolitan city of Kolkata: Kolkata, North 24 Parganas, South 24 Parganas, Howrah, and Hooghly. They account for nearly 43% of the state's population and also witness the highest footfalls during festivities.

There's a vast variation in vaccination coverage as well. While Howrah and Hooghly have each given at least 750 doses per 1,000 population, Kolkata and South 24 Parganas have barely given 500 doses. At 7.7% and 5.1%, Kolkata and Howrah reported the highest test positivity rates, higher than the state’s average of 2%.

Dozen concerns

India reported 106,567 new cases in the last seven days, down 2.4%. However, 12 states reported a rise in cases, seven of them by more than 100 cases each. Kerala accounted for 57% of the cases, but its tally has been declining for seven weeks now.

In Assam and Himachal Pradesh, new infections went up by over 300. Around 30% of the new cases in Assam are concentrated in Kamrup Metropolitan district. Kangra district accounted for 44% of the new cases reported in Himachal Pradesh.

India’s covid death toll went up 2.6 times to 3,574 this week, mainly on account of a reconciliation exercise by Kerala.

As Diwali approaches, there is a growing risk of a surge in infections. Masking and social distancing will be key to keeping the infections down.

www.howindialives.com is a database and search engine for public data

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