BIRTHDAY SHOTS

India’s Covid vaccinations magically tripled on Narendra Modi’s birthday

Shot in the arm.
Shot in the arm.
Image: Reuters/Adnan Abidi
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In a coincidence with the prime minister’s 71st birthday, India somehow achieved its highest-ever daily vaccinations on Sept. 17.

The 25 million Covid-19 vaccines that the government claims to have administered that day are more than three times the normal daily average of 8 million over the past month. Vaccinations then returned to their usual pace on Sept. 18 and 19.

A birthday gift

This sudden spike has observers wondering if vaccinations were artificially suppressed in the lead up to Sept. 17. In Karnataka’s municipal district of Bengaluru, for instance, over 400,000 vaccines were administered on Sept. 17. But on Sept. 15 and 16, the district administered just about 32,000 and 23,000 doses, respectively.

Karnataka is a state ruled by Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). It vaccinated a little over 81,000 people on Sept. 16, and 3.2 million the following day. Data point to similar surges in other states with BJP governments.

According to calculations made by health economist Rijo M John, five BJP-ruled states administered more than 55% of the day’s vaccines on Sept. 17. (India has 28 states and eight union territories).

Modi’s mega vaccination drives

On June 21, the Indian government’s new vaccine policy came into effect. Under this system, the central government—and not state governments—are responsible for buying and distributing Covid-19 vaccines.

On that day, the government administered 8.6 million doses, its record at the time. But a review of the data by Scroll.in revealed that the “record” was broken because of artificially lowered vaccination rates across states in the weeks leading up to June 21. BJP-ruled states stood out as anomalies then, too. Madhya Pradesh, for instance, administered just 692 doses on June 20, compared to 1.69 million doses on June 21.

Since August, though, vaccinations have picked up pace owing to a greater supply of Covishield doses from their manufacturer, the Serum Institute of India. The Indian government said that states have more than 54 million unused doses of Covid-19 vaccines, and another 1.5 million are in the pipeline. This does not include private hospitals’ and healthcare clinics’ stock.

The vaccinations on Sept. 17, if the figures are reliable, indicate that India does not have logistical problems in delivering doses. So why have vaccination rates dropped back to the monthly average?