India crosses 10m vaccinations, prepares to expand programme to those above 50

The milestone comes amid growing calls for India to ramp up vaccination. PHOTO: AFP

KOLKATA - India has crossed the 10 million mark in administering Covid-19 vaccine doses.

The government said this was achieved on Friday evening (Feb 19), adding it is the second fastest in the world to get to that number.

In a tweet on Feb 19, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare said India had taken 34 days to get to this mark, while claiming the United States took 31 days to do so.

The milestone comes amid growing calls for India to ramp up vaccination, including from private players who are seeking a greater role in the drive, as the number of daily new cases shows a renewed surge in some states.

India began its Covid-19 vaccination programme on Jan 16 and aims to vaccinate around 300 million people in the priority groups, including the elderly, by July to August.

With 10,715,204 vaccine doses given as at 8am on Saturday, India is currently ranked third according to total doses administered, with the US in first position and the United Kingdom in second. According to the ministry's tweet on Friday, the US had administered 56.28 million doses and the UK, 16.5 million.

It is expected to open up vaccinations for citizens above 50 in the next two to three weeks. Eligible beneficiaries will be able to register themselves on the CO-Win 2.0 app that has been designed to drive the Covid-19 immunisation programme.

Progress in expanding vaccination coverage has been slow primarily due to vaccine hesitancy and tech glitches in the app. At current rates of vaccination, India will not be able to reach its target of inoculating 300 million people by July to August and could overshoot it by several months.

On Friday, India's health minister Harsh Vardhan appealed to healthcare and front-line workers to take the vaccine.

"Let us all work together to fight against Covid-19... It is only with our collective effort that we shall overcome this public health challenge," he said.

Professor N. K. Arora, chairman of the Covid-19 working group of the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation in India, told The Straits Times the target set by the government is achievable and that vaccinations could soon touch "five to seven million daily".

"We are in a marathon and in a marathon you do not take off at the highest speed right from day one. You gradually warm up, learn and position yourself and then take off," he said, adding that the slow initial pace of vaccination had helped the administration better understand the challenges involved.

The government is working to increase the number of immunisation centres from the current figure of around 12,000.

"We have the capacity of having 50,000 to 100,000 immunisation centres operating any single day," Prof Arora added.

As India expands its vaccination programme, it will have to ensure that people receive timely reminders for the second dose of the vaccine and be able to accommodate those who fail to show up on the pre-assigned date.

"These are all parts of a vaccination programme that have to move in harmony and synchronisation with each other," Prof Arora said.

Meanwhile, adding to a growing demand for greater private sector involvement, the Confederation of Indian Industry suggested in a media statement on Thursday that business enterprises be permitted to vaccinate employees and their immediate family members.

Enterprises, it said, could assist in vaccinating surrounding communities as part of their corporate social responsibility, while making it clear they would comply with government guidelines.

India said it is the second fastest in the world to get to cross the 10 million mark in administering Covid-19 vaccine doses. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Professor K. Srinath Reddy, president of the Public Health Foundation of India, told ST that the private sector would have to follow priorities set by the government to avoid diversion of vaccine stocks to non-priority groups.

It is also important, he said, for India to train more people to give vaccinations to ensure local administrations are able to have enough of them to carry out their vaccination programmes.

"Then to build vaccine confidence among the people, you have to use local community networks, not just national beam-outs or messages on national media. You also need local community networks to be activated," he added.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.