India’s billion Covid-19 vaccinations seem astounding, until we look at the global context

Big numbers.
Big numbers.
Image: REUTERS/Francis Mascarenhas
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India has now administered over a billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines, only the second country in the world to do so after China.

After months of acute shortages, a raging second wave, an opaque system of placing vaccine orders, and technical glitches, India finally seems to be on track to at least partially inoculate its adult population by December.

So far, nearly 701 million people have received their first dose and about 291 million both. Of the billion administered to now, 25 million were recorded on Sept. 17, prime minister Narendra Modi’s birthday.

India is also among the countries where citizens have to pay for vaccines at private hospitals, though doses are free at government centres. Initially, those aged between 18 and 44 years had to pay even at state-run facilities. The policy was eventually reversed on June 21.

Government-run or pro-government social media accounts celebrating the “1 billion vaccine doses” now, however, thank Modi for the “free” vaccines.

Overall, the country has administered roughly 15% of the total doses of Covid-19 vaccines in the world.

And yet, it has some distance to cover to reach strong immunity.

Partially and fully vaccinated people in India

India’s revised vaccination strategy, which increased the gap between doses of the Covishield vaccine from four weeks to 12 weeks, helped it cover a larger chunk of the population with the first dose. Covishield, the Indian brand of the AstraZeneca vaccine, accounts for over 90% of these shots.

The country, however, lags behind others in fully vaccinating a majority of its population, covering only a little over 20% of Indians.