India Accelerates Vaccination Drive as Second Covid Wave Grows
A health worker administers the Covishield vaccine, to a senior citizen at a hospital in New Delhi. (Photographer: T. Narayan/Bloomberg)

India Accelerates Vaccination Drive as Second Covid Wave Grows

India’s government opened up one of the world’s biggest coronavirus immunization campaigns to everyone over the age of 45 as the nation of nearly 1.4 billion people grapples with a resurgence of infections amid tensions over delayed vaccine supplies to other countries.

Anyone above that age can receive their jabs across government and private hospitals starting from April 1, Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar said after a cabinet meeting on Tuesday. So far, 48.5 million people have been injected including frontline and medical workers, those over the age of 65 and those at risk who are 45 years or older, he said.

The move to widen India’s immunization net came amid widespread calls to expand the drive as fresh infections shot up in recent weeks to more than 40,000 a day from about a quarter of that number in February. While India has been reluctant to reimpose lockdowns after a hastily drawn up one last year failed to halt the rampant spread of the disease and inflicted deep economic damage, there are increased concerns that national and state governments may need to tighten movement restrictions.

With an aim to inoculate 300 million Indians by August, the government has also sought to quash vaccine hesitation, which appears widespread across Asia. India’s and mainland China’s efforts have suffered from slow starts. The two nations have administered 3.56 and 5.38 doses per 100 people respectively, according to Bloomberg’s vaccine tracker, in part due to distrust and concern about the efficacy of the vaccines. That compares with 46 doses per 100 people in the U.K.

Since a sluggish beginning in January, India’s campaign has picked up pace with the average number of people receiving a dose jumping from 377,000 a day in February to 1.55 million per day this month, Javadekar said. A record 3.25 million shots were administered on Monday, he said, adding that India has adequate supplies of vaccines to go around despite concerns of shortfalls.

However, India’s decision to ramp up its rollout has led to diplomatic spats with nations that are dependent on the South Asian vaccine manufacturing hub for their supplies. Recent tensions between the U.K. and India were exposed when New Delhi was accused of holding back shipments of about 5 million doses of AstraZeneca Plc’s shot originally earmarked for Britain’s immunization rollout.

Adar Poonawalla, the chief executive of the Serum Institute of India Ltd. -- which is manufacturing tens of millions of doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine each month from its plants in western India -- told Bloomberg in an interview aired last week that the administration of Prime Minister Narendra Modi had requested more vaccines than initially expected from the company.

The supply logjam is also causing the inoculation gap between rich and poor nations to widen each day, a situation World Health Organization Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called “grotesque” at a briefing on Monday. The WHO-backed Covax initiative, which is purchasing vaccines for poor and middle-income countries, has had “teething problems,” senior WHO official Bruce Aylward said at the same news conference. Its major suppliers AstraZeneca and the Serum Institute can’t keep pace with orders, he said.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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