Opening up of India’s vaccine programme gives it new legs3 min read . Updated: 04 Mar 2021, 01:11 PM IST
- This week, India’s vaccine programme entered a new phase, and the focus is now on enabling an assembly-type implementation.
In a week when India registered over 100,000 new covid-19 cases for the first time since mid-January, a string of moves from multiple stakeholders aiming to scale up and streamline vaccine outreach in the country took centrestage.
The Centre opened up vaccination to certain categories of general citizens and handed private hospitals a bigger role. One of the two approved vaccine-makers in India put out encouraging efficacy numbers. Select corporates offered to organize, and fund, vaccinations for their staff and families. And general citizens lined up for a jab in large numbers.
Beginning 1 March, the programme opened up to everyone above 60 years and those above 45 years with specified health conditions. The first three days of this wider remit saw India average 0.57 million vaccine doses a day. This was 72% higher than the daily average in the first 44 days, taking the total doses imparted to 16.6 million.
Further, about 5 million people reportedly registered on the government’s Co-Win portal in the first two days—a demand of about nine times the current daily run rate. India’s vaccine programme has entered a new phase, and the focus is now on enabling an assembly-type rollout.
Delhi maintained the top position in vaccine coverage, averaging 23.9 doses per 1,000 population. This is an increase from 19.4 last week and is more than double the national average of 11.4. In the past week, all 22 states with a population above 5 million registered an increase of at least 10% on this metric. In four states, the increase was above 30%, namely Rajasthan, West Bengal, Assam and Kerala. Rajasthan apart, the other three states will see assembly elections in the next two months.
The pace of increase in this metric will be keenly watched. The ground is being readied on the supply side for progressive improvements. For example, since 1 March, the Centre has allowed walk-ins to get a jab, as opposed to web registration only. It has given private hospitals the flexibility to manage their schedules, including round-the-clock service. Elsewhere, at least two companies, Infosys and Accenture, have said they will cover vaccination costs for their staff and immediate families.
The extension of the vaccine programme works well for the Centre. For 2021-22, the Centre has earmarked ₹35,000 crore for the covid vaccine programme. Private citizens taking vaccines from private facilities, or organizations paying on behalf of their staff, will enable the Centre to meet its larger objective of vaccinating the population at a lower cost.
Acceptance of vaccines in India, and their supply, could also receive a boost from the test numbers released on Wednesday for Covaxin, the second vaccine approved by India. The homegrown vaccine, developed by the Indian Council of Medical Research and Bharat Biotech, showed an interim efficacy of 81% in preventing covid-19, at par with other vaccines. So far, Covaxin has played second fiddle, reportedly accounting for about 10% of administered doses.
India has vaccinated only about 0.18% of its population, according to Our World in Data. Although it’s among the top five countries in absolute number of doses, due to its high population, it lags on a per capita basis. Israel has vaccinated almost 40% of its population, while UAE and US have vaccinated 22.1% and 7.4%, respectively. On Wednesday, the US approved the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, a single-dose vaccine that is more climate resilient and has been marked to increase the pace of vaccination.
The surge in vaccine activity in India comes at a critical time. The past week was the first time since the second week of January that India added above 100,000 new covid-19 cases. Worryingly, 20 states have recorded increases in each of the past two weeks.
Of the 109,340 cases added this week, Maharashtra accounted for about 52%. The top six districts reporting the maximum new cases were all from Maharashtra: Pune, Nagpur, Mumbai, Amravati, Thane and Nashik. With 9,840 new cases and a week-on-week increase of 36%, Pune replaced Amravati as the district with the maximum new cases.
Of the 25 districts reporting above 1,000 new cases in a week, 13 were from Maharashtra, 10 from Kerala, and one each from Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.
At a time when the country is progressively opening up, a spike in new cases is a cause for concern. It’s all the more reason why the vaccine drive can do with all the pushes and nudges it can get.
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