Young, Indian, unvaccinated: The world's largest inoculation drive falters

Young, Indian, unvaccinated: The world's largest inoculation drive falters

FILE PHOTO: COVID-19 vaccination in Kolkata
People wearing protective face masks wait to receive their second dose of COVISHIELD, a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine manufactured by Serum Institute of India on May 12, 2021. (Photo: Reuters/Rupak De Chowdhuri) 

NEW DELHI: India began an inoculation drive for its 1.38 billion people in earnest in mid-January.

Healthcare, frontline workers and the elderly were the first eligible, followed by people aged over 45 in April and then adults aged 18-45 in May.

That last extension, covering around 43 per cent of the population, proved to be a crunch point.

READ: Indian state sharply raises COVID-19 death toll prompting call for wide review

Following a surge in COVID-19 infections across the country in April, Prime Minister Narendra Modi accelerated plans to broaden the programme and opened up vaccinations from May 1 for people aged between 18 and 45 years.

The decision led to a rush by people in that age group, who account for 600 million of the population, to sign up to the government’s CoWIN vaccination website. 

FILE PHOTO: Vaccination drive in south Kashmir's Pulwama district
A healthcare worker gives a dose of COVID-19 vaccine to a shepherd man during a vaccination drive at a forest area in south Kashmir's Pulwama district on Jun 7, 2021. (Photo: Reuters/Danish Ismail/File Photo) 

Critically, there was no corresponding increase in vaccine supplies.

By Jun 4, India had provided at least one dose to roughly 50 million people aged between 18 and 44, representing just 8 per cent of that population group.

Adding to the difficulties, a privilege gap emerged in the vaccination rollout, with hospitals charging different prices for the same vaccine. Some hospitals in affluent areas have sold the Covishield shot, manufactured in India, for 1,800 rupees (US$25) a dose, almost double the 950 rupees charged elsewhere.

READ: Women falling behind in India's COVID-19 vaccination drive

Also, urban Indians have received shots faster than those living in the countryside. 

That means vaccines remain unavailable to a large part of the population that cannot afford it or has little or no access to private hospitals.

VACCINE IMPORTER

India - the world's biggest producer of vaccines for polio, diphtheria and other diseases - sold or donated more than 66 million COVID-19 vaccine shots to 95 countries until the middle of April.

But as infections started rising from around mid-March in India, the clamour for vaccines at home also increased. India has now started importing vaccines and also expecting donations from the United States.

READ: India reopens major cities as new COVID-19 infections hit 2-month low

The government expects vaccine supplies to improve substantially from June. It is expecting to produce enough shots by December to inoculate all of its estimated 950 million adults, though those between 18 and 45 years will be the last on the priority list.

FILE PHOTO: Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in New Delhi
People wearing protective face masks wait to receive a dose of COVISHIELD at a vaccination centre in New Delhi, India on May 4, 2021. (Photo: Reuters/Adnan Abidi) 

Several states in India have begun to gradually lift restrictions on travel and businesses, after a fall in cases in recent weeks. 

However, health experts have warned that cases could surge again once most states re-open, and have called for vaccinations to be sped up.

As of Jun 8, less than 4 per cent of India’s adult population had been given the required two vaccine doses. 

Nearly 14 per cent received at least one dose and, of that group, less than one-tenth of 18-45 year olds have been inoculated.

Source: Reuters/ad

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