While the government plans to vaccinate all 94 crore adults by the end of the year, the 1 billion doses achievement is undoubtedly a significant one, considering that the feat has been achieved in a little over nine months since India’s vaccination programme kick-started. For comparison, the number of doses administered in India is twice that of the number of doses disbursed in the US, nine times that of Germany, and ten times as much as France. China happens to be the only other nation, with a population exceeding a billion, that has administered a billion doses and that too in June this year.
The Centre is understandably proud of the achievement, as it plans to announce this on flights, railways, and caller tunes have also been updated to keep Indians abreast of the statistic. But when it comes to numbers, it seems prudent that we examine the data further, especially considering India’s track record when it came to the reportage of vital metrics and statistics about the pandemic. As per the latest data, there are over 3.4 crore cases of COVID-19 that have been reported in India. The fatalities have been pegged at 4.5 lakh although experts have previously questioned the veracity of the figures about casualties. One must also remember that in the early months of the pandemic, several states had complained of vaccine shortage, with stocks threatening to run out in a matter of days. In contrast, government data recently revealed that the quantum of unutilised vaccines lying with states has doubled since September.
The spike in vaccine supplies has been zeroed down to an increase in production as well as improvements in logistical arrangements in India. According to a senior official in the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, more than 10 crore vaccine doses were in the custody of states last week as compared to 5 crore doses in the beginning of the month. The supplies are set to go up once Zydus Cadila’s anti-COVID vaccine is also added to the list and the company is expected to provide 60 lakh doses once the necessary clearances are through.
The fact that India has been able to vaccinate in such a manner that 65 per cent of the total inoculations took place in rural regions points to an equitable distribution of vaccines in the country. This is, of course, in stark contrast to developing or low-income nations where just three per cent of the population has received one dose. Having said that, this might essentially be a time for India to take stock of its achievements and the accompanying fault lines of vaccine procurement and delivery across the nation. As schools are set to reopen and children are next in line for the vaccine, a measure of extreme caution must be employed in ascertaining aspects of safety and side effects when it comes to the inoculation of minors.
How India has become emulation-worthy for the rest of the world, when it comes to mass inoculation was already proved during our polio vaccination drives. And now, with the 1 bn achievement in delivering COVID vaccine doses, we have reinforced our prowess. If COVID has taught us one thing, it is the importance of having a robust public healthcare backbone that can help citizens in the hour of need. We must regard this achievement as a precursor to building a fully proactive, affordable, and accessible citizen-centric healthcare ecosystem.