Home / News / India /  How India fell behind peers in vaccine race

On 26 May, India became only the third country to administer 200 million doses of the covid-19 vaccine. But this number hides more than it reveals. As a share of its population, India has been able to vaccinate fewer people than in other populous developing countries such as China, Brazil, and Mexico.

On 1 April, when India opened vaccination to the public in a graded manner, India’s vaccination numbers were comparable to peers. Back then, India had given 5 doses per 100 population. Brazil, China, Russia and Mexico were in the range of 6.7-9.7.

In the 56-day period between 1 April and 26 May, India’s per capita coverage has increased to 14. Over the same period, China’s per capita vaccine coverage has shot up to 38 and Brazil’s to 30. The lack of adequate supplies has meant that India’s vaccination rate has suffered even as other countries have stepped up their vaccination efforts.

Even Japan, which had been a laggard in vaccination till a few weeks back, has been able to ramp up vaccination rapidly. So has the Philippines, which saw a spike in infections around the same time India did. These countries have already ordered enough vaccines to provide at least one dose to each citizen. India is far behind on that front.

Among the 10 most populous countries of the world, India is among the three countries that have seen a drop in vaccination rates over the past week. The other two countries on this list are the US and Bangladesh. The US has already vaccinated a majority of its citizens and has more than enough stocks. Bangladesh’s predicament is similar to India: limited vaccine coverage amid limited vaccine supplies.

States of Despair

As many as 22 of the 36 states and union territories have registered a drop in the average daily shots administered in the latest week as compared to what they averaged in the 56-day period since 1 April. Kerala saw the highest dip (-66%), followed by Telangana (-64%). Even among the 14 that have seen a pick up in pace, states such as Uttar Pradesh and Bihar have been able to cover only a minuscule share of their population.

Uttar Pradesh (72 doses per 1000), Bihar (81), Tamil Nadu (102), Jharkhand (105), Assam (111) continue to lag behind other states in terms of cumulative doses per capita.

The current top five in terms of cumulative doses per capita were all among the leaders even in early-April. These are Himachal Pradesh (320 doses per 1,000 people on 27 May), Delhi (279), Uttarakhand (252), Gujarat (252) and Kerala (246).

Slowing Spread

The silver lining in the covid story is the fall in new cases amid widespread lockdowns. The daily average of new cases fell to about 228,000 in the latest week, against 295,000 the week before. The drop is wide-ranging. Of the 303 districts with above 1,000 new cases this week, 213 have seen a weekly drop. There were 11 districts from 6 states where new cases exceeded 20,000. Three weeks ago, this was true of 18 districts across 9 states.

Still, there are pockets of concern. One is Tamil Nadu, where all districts registered above 1,000 new cases last week. Amid the countrywide fall last week, 27 of its 32 districts reported an increase in new cases, including double-digit growth in 19. Among the top 20 districts by new cases, only three faced higher cases than the week-ago period: Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu, Mysore in Karnataka, and Satara in Maharashtra.

Death Factor

Even as new infections have declined, the number of reported deaths continue to rise across several states. Among the top 10 states by case count, the southern states of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala registered more deaths in the latest week. Even Maharashtra, which was seeing a tapering, showed an increase. There is typically some lag between the time infections peak and deaths peak. In the current wave, the lag also reflects delayed reporting and efforts at reconciliation by authorities.

Maharashtra reported the maximum covid-19 deaths in the latest week (7,046, up 12%), followed by Karnataka (3,623, up 23%). Kerala and Odisha saw the highest weekly increases, of 72% and 41%, respectively. In Kerala, Kottayam reported 91 deaths this week, up from 8 deaths. Palakkad has reported 340 deaths in the past month, of which 182 were in the latest week. Even as new cases drop, control over fatalities will greatly influence when and how states lift lockdowns.

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