India reaches milestone of one billion vaccinations

Indian women wait in a queue to receive a shot of the vaccine against COVID-19 during a special mass vaccination drive for women, in Mumbai, India, 17 September 2021. EPA-EFE/DIVYAKANT SOLANKI [EPA/EFE/DIVYAKANT SOLANKI]

India’s COVID-19 vaccination drive has achieved a historic milestone of administering one billion vaccine doses, mostly Indian-made, the authorities in New Delhi announced on Thursday (21 October). However, efforts continue because only around 30% of adults have had both doses.

Three-quarters of adults in the country of 1.3 billion people have had one shot, and around 30% are fully vaccinated, the government said.

India has achieved this mark of one billion vaccine doses in less than 40 weeks. The authorities say that this exemplifies India’s prowess in various elements in the vaccination journey – development of new vaccines, production of vaccines, deployment, and technology.

India’s COVID-19 vaccination drive was launched on 16 January 2021, some three weeks after vaccination in the EU started on 27 December 2020.

A difficult start

In the spring, the surge of the highly infectious Indian variant of the coronavirus saw hospitals run out of beds and oxygen, leaving morgues and crematoriums overflowing. The Indian government were widely criticised by the opposition and the public for the supposed mismanagement of the pandemic.

They were accused of suppressing death rates, being responsible for “needless deaths”, and failing to protect the right to life. The International Commission of Jurists said the government failed in several areas including guaranteeing access to nominally priced oxygen, hospital beds, medicine, tests, and vaccines.

“The Indian federal and state governments failed to prepare for the predictable second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, aggravating the horrific impact of the pandemic and the avoidable tragedy of between 1,500 to over 3,000 deaths daily,” said Sam Zarifi, ICJ’s Secretary-General.

Earlier this month, the Indian Supreme Court ruled the government should pay some €574 in compensation for every death due to COVID-19. The order came following a lawyer-led petition seeking compensation under the country’s disaster management laws.

Authorities have 30 days to pay the amount from the moment the family submit the application.

India posts record daily rise in coronavirus deaths

India’s coronavirus deaths rose by a record 3,780 during the last 24 hours, a day after it became the second country to cross the grim milestone of 20 million infections after the United states.

Then on 27 April, it reported 360,960 daily cases- the highest globally.

So what changed?

India prioritised vaccine development and launched ‘Mission COVID Suraksha’ to provide financial and technical support to indigenous vaccine manufacturers. This mission was the force behind the world’s first DNA-based COVID vaccine Zycov-D, developed by Zydus Cadila, targeted at vaccinating children over 12 years.

Reportedly, the mission also supported the capacity development of India’s multinational biotechnical company Bharat Biotech and provided support for infrastructure and technology development for other public sector manufacturers.

India is the only country that has developed multiple vaccines across multiple platforms (Bharat Biotech’s COVAXIN uses an inactivated virus platform, Zycov-D is a DNA vaccine, Covishield a viral vector vaccine, Gennova is in the running for being India’s first mRNA vaccine), according to its government.

For vaccine deployment and delivery, a comprehensive system of planning and implementation was put in place. The National COVID Vaccination Programme initially targeted the healthcare and frontline workers and senior citizens, due to a higher risk perception.

Subsequently, the programme was rolled out to include people above 45 years of age and with co-morbidities and was later extended to all citizens above 45.

All adults above 18 are included in the ongoing phase, and vaccination is being provided for free at public vaccination facilities.

Local production booms

Following the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) approval, three vaccines have been utilised in the Programme (COVISHIELD developed by Serum Institute of India in collaboration with Astra Zeneca of the United Kingdom COVAXIN of Bharat Biotech International Limited and SPUTNIK V of Russia).

Nearly all of the 1 billion doses administered have been made in India, except for a minuscule proportion of Sputnik V (approximately 0.4 million doses). Moreover, more than 95% of those vaccine doses have been delivered by India’s public health system, which the authorities say is a testimony to its reach and robustness.

Private healthcare outlets have also been included in the implementation of the vaccination drive.

By the end of 2021, India is looking at increased monthly production of COVID-19 vaccines, a larger basket of vaccine options and a bigger proportion of the population fully vaccinated. This, according to the authorities, would translate to a larger potential to share vaccines with the world, contributing toward the realisation of the prime minister’s vision of “One Earth, One Health”.

Last June, on the occasion of the UK-hosted G7 meeting at which the leaders of India, Australia, South Korea and South Africa were invited as guests, Modi called for “one earth, one health” approach, which aims for unity and solidarity among the states of the world to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

He also emphasised the need to keep raw materials for vaccines easily accessible.

According to experts, India can play a crucial role in delivering the urgently needed vaccines worldwide, given its extensive, well-developed existing infrastructure and supply chains. Due to its sizeable generic drugs industry, India has been dubbed the pharmacy of the developing world.

[Edited by Alice Taylor]

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Embassy of India, Brussels

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