India Celebrates 1 Billion Covid-19 Vaccine Doses

This week India celebrated the milestone of administering 1 billion Covid-19 vaccine doses with a rather elaborate fanfare. The Indian government promoted this achievement with celebrations including song and dance, but the focus stayed on the number of doses and not the number of recipients. While the number is surely impressive, there is need for caution with India’s experience in the past.

The 1 billion vaccine doses managed to immunize nearly 75% of the 944 million eligible population with only one dose and about 31% with two doses. The inoculations that began in January 2021 did see a rather slow start considering the high population and the ability of the country to manufacture vaccines in-house. The government aims to vaccinate adults by the end of this year which may seem like an ambitious feat.

India witnessed some challenging times with the Delta variant of the virus that wreaked havoc in April and May this year. The government faced immense criticism over its handling of the situation with overburdened hospitals and shortage of oxygen cylinders in many parts of the country. The delayed administration of the vaccine was attributed to the government’s neglect of vaccine orders and unwarranted focus on the elections. The government chose to lift a good amount of Covid restrictions when the country had barely started vaccination and the number of cases were not necessarily under control.

With the current celebrations, the government may be slipping into old habits of premature optimism and letting go of caution when it is the most crucial. It is up to the authorities to encourage its population to practice diligence while the country gradually lifts Covid restrictions again. Promoting the use of masks, social distancing and vaccinations should be the priority while the immunization rate continues to rise.

Administering 1 billion doses was no easy feat for a developing nation. India started donating vaccine to its neighboring countries early on as compared to developed nations like USA who prioritized their own population. While it had to follow suit and shut down the export temporarily, it is gradually opening up to supplying vaccines to countries in need. In a Reuters article, Poonam Khetrapal Singh, the regional director of the WHO in South-East Asia, stated that: “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.” Apart from the vaccine export issues, India has its own internal supply chain problems with some of the rural population requiring a different and at times innovative approach. Add in the diversity and varied socio-economic issues that makes vaccine awareness difficult — unlike developed nations like Canada, a good number of the population in India had to pay for the vaccine.

The focus on vaccination is important for the world at this moment and India has the added pressure of living up to its mass immunization success history. While it may be healthy to take a step back and celebrate, this may be the time to put all its efforts in a final push to get the country fully vaccinated.