However, the pace of second-dose vaccination is modest. While around 786,000 health workers got their first dose between 16 and 20 January, only 43% of them turned up for their second dose between 13 and 17 February
Over 342,000 healthcare workers are now protected from the coronavirus infection in India after they got their second and final dose of the vaccine. India began giving the second dose on 13 February, four weeks after vaccinations began. This period has seen a marked decline in new infections, though that trend appears to be breaking in Maharashtra after fresh spikes this week.
The pace of vaccinations is gradually picking up, but government data on the second doses may be of concern. While 786,000 persons had received their first dose in the first five days of the vaccination drive, only 43% of them turned up for the second dose in the five days after 13 February.
Meanwhile, the total number of vaccine doses given in India reached 9.4 million as of 17 February. Nine states have given at least one dose to more than 75% of their healthcare workers, with Bihar (85%), Tripura (82%), and Odisha (82%) leading the way, the health ministry said. This is less than 50% in eight states, including Tamil Nadu and Punjab.
As a share of population, Delhi (12 doses per 1,000 population) has the best coverage as of Wednesday, followed by Jammu and Kashmir (12), Uttarakhand (11) and Gujarat (11). Nationally, this figure stands at only 6.8, even though India’s total vaccination count is the fourth highest in the world. Israel has already vaccinated more than 30% of its population, shows data from Our World in Data.
One reason India lags is that it has prioritized only healthcare and frontline workers in the first phase. A much larger section of the population—the elderly and those with comorbid conditions—are due to start getting their shots in March.
N.K. Arora, a member of a government task force on the vaccinations, said the slow pace was a “deliberate attempt" to look for hiccups.
The government also said the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunization will examine the World Health Organization’s recommendation of increasing the gap between the two doses to eight to 12 weeks in the Indian context.
As vaccinations carried on, India’s overall count of infections continued to decline further. The country added fewer than 80,000 cases in the last seven days, marking an eight-month low. As many as 42% of these cases came from Kerala, and another 30% from Maharashtra.
The fully-vaccinated population share is 4.5% in the US and 3% in Denmark.
The spurt in Maharashtra’s cases has worried state authorities. From fewer than 2,500 daily cases just two weeks ago, the state is again adding more than 3,000 new daily cases. The positivity rate has risen to 6.7% over the last week, much higher than the national average of 1.7%.
Six districts in the state recorded more than 1,000 new cases in this period, with Mumbai, Pune, Nagpur, and Amravati going past the 3,000 mark, data compiled by howindialives.com on Wednesday evening showed. Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray has warned of a lockdown if residents flout safety protocol.
The spike comes around a month after gram panchayat elections in the state saw a 79% turnout.
Kerala had faced a similar spike after local body polls in December
This makes Punjab the state to watch out for in the coming weeks. The state has just concluded municipal elections.
Half of all 654 deaths in the last week were in Maharashtra (37%) and Kerala (17%). Punjab recorded the third highest number of deaths (47). With this, the national toll has reached 156,014 as of Thursday morning. Around 10.66 million patients have recovered, while 137,342 remain under treatment.
The surge in Maharashtra is not the only big risk India faces. Four cases of the South African strain of the virus, said to be highly contagious and resistant to vaccines, have been detected in India.
Vaccine hesitancy is also a risk, some of it evident after the lower-than-expected numbers on the second vaccine dose and with slower pace in some states. A study by researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Johns Hopkins University has found that vaccine acceptance has seen a decline in India in recent months, from 77% in August 2020 to 68% in January.
This assumes significance as India prepares to enter the second phase of its vaccination drive. The country’s generosity in exporting vaccines has got global fame, but it still needs to push its own pace and build more public confidence to contain the virus in time and keep risks at bay.