India yesterday celebrated the milestone of administering 1 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses, with the government promoting the achievement in song and video, even as a recent drop in inoculations worries healthcare providers.
After a slow beginning in the middle of January, India’s immunization campaign has covered three-quarters of its 944 million adults with at least one dose, but only 31 percent with two. The government wants all adults to be vaccinated this year.
“India scripts history,” Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi wrote on Twitter. “We are witnessing the triumph of Indian science, enterprise and collective spirit of 130 crore [1.3 billion] Indians.”
Modi marked the occasion with a visit to a government hospital in New Delhi. The Indian Ministry of Health announced musical and other programs across the country, and special illuminations of national monuments, including a colonial-era jail.
Nearly 90 percent of the vaccines administered in India have come from the Serum Institute of India, which produces a licensed version of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. The institute has more than tripled its capacity since April and can produce 220 million vaccine doses per month.
It has also slowly resumed exports for the first time since April, when the government stopped all overseas sales to meet domestic demand as infections rose dramatically.
The WHO, which relies heavily on India for supplies to its global vaccine-sharing platform COVAX, congratulated the country for reaching the landmark.
“India’s progress must be viewed in the context of the country’s commendable commitment and efforts to ensure that these life-saving vaccines are accessible globally,” said Poonam Khetrapal Singh, WHO Southeast Asia regional director.
India has so far reported 34.1 million COVID-19 cases and more than 452,000 deaths, most during a second wave of infections of the Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2 that surged through the country between April and May.
A “sizeable number” of people in India have not taken their second dose by the due date despite adequate supplies, the ministry said on Tuesday, as new infections fell to their lowest since early March.
Daily shots have averaged 5 million this month, one-fifth of last month’s peak, although states are sitting on record stocks of more than 100 million doses as domestic output of the AstraZeneca vaccine soars.
Despite the current low number of infections, ministry officials have been urging people to get vaccinated fast, especially as the ongoing festival season means family gatherings and mass shopping, raising the risk of a new wave of infections.
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