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Saturday, December 4, 2021

One billion done, but daily dose administration sees near-consistent decline

The billionth Covid-19 vaccine shot was administered in India on Thursday morning–exactly nine months and five days after the country’s vaccination programme kicked off on January 16. The milestone comes as new infections and active cases in the country are at the lowest levels since early March, or in over seven months.

As of 11.30am on Thursday, 1,000,220,711 shots of the Covid-19 vaccine were administered across the country to 708.4 million people, according to data available on the Union health ministry’s CoWIN dashboard. Of these, around 880 million doses have been of Covishield (the brand name under which Pune-based Serum Institute of India has been manufacturing the vaccine developed by Oxford-AstraZeneca). Over 114 million doses have been of Covaxin (the shot developed by Bharat Biotech in collaboration with the country’s apex biomedical research regulator, the Indian Council of Medical Research).

In absolute numbers, the milestone places India as the second country in the world (next to China with 2.2 billion shots administered) in terms of total Covid-19 vaccine doses administered.

Of the 708.4 million people, who have been administered these shots, 416.6 million have been partially vaccinated, while 291.8 million people have received both doses. When seen alongside India’s estimated population of 940 million adults, 44.3% of the country’s adults have been partially vaccinated and another 31% fully. This means in total, three out of every four adults (75.4%) in the country have received at least one shot.

Also Read | Consistency key, efforts must go on: Dr VK Paul on 1-billion Covid vaccine feat

A cause of concern for the drive, however, is that daily dose administration has now seen a near-consistent decline from the peak levels during the second half of September – a factor that Union health ministry officials and experts have attributed to low turnout during the ongoing festive season and the vaccine hesitancy threshold finally being visible.

The seven-day average of daily dose administration, a statistic that evens out the dip generally seen over weekends, touched a peak of 9.7 million for the week ending September 23 when several states increased daily numbers to mark Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s birthday on September 17. In the month since, however, it has dropped nearly 60% to around 4 million shots a day on average in the past week.

An easy way to grasp the impact of this drop in vaccination pace is to see it as the required run rate in the final overs of a cricket match. In the race for vaccination, as is the case in a run chase, a slower run rate in the middle of an innings requires heavy slogging in the final few overs. In the case of vaccination, if the country had sustained its administration rate of around 10 million doses a day around the third week of September, then it would have been on course to meet its December 31 target of fully vaccinating all adults. But since this rate has dropped in the 25 days since, the required rate has shot up – now India needs to administer more than 12 million doses every day till the end of the year to meet this target. At the rate of administration in the past week (4 million a day, as stated above), however, this target will be delayed by more than five months, data shows.

Such a calculation, of course, assumes that the entire adult population of the country will want vaccines, an unlikely proposition. Most experts fear the vaccine drive will hit a ceiling around the 75-80% level.

Vaccine hesitancy, which was not visible in the initial months of the inoculation drive due to limited supply of doses and high rush for shots in a population of the size of India, is becoming more visible now as coverage has reached high numbers in recent weeks.

Experts across the world have warned that any supposed vaccine hesitancy would start showing signs after countries hit a high coverage threshold. This is because those who were going to get their shots have now done so, and those who still remain away from vaccination centres are the ones who are hesitant.

This has been the reason why even countries such as the United States, which have far better vaccine coverage than countries like India, have been unable to hit 100% coverage.

Government officials have said the Union government plans to start a dedicated campaign to create awareness among the masses to overcome vaccine hesitancy once the billion-dose target is achieved. “After 100 crore (1 billion) Covid-19 vaccine doses are administered in the country, we will work on running a massive campaign for generating awareness about taking the second dose, and also addressing overall vaccine hesitancy,” said a government functionary who asked not to be named.

“There is still a section that needs convincing to take the shot. It is also important for everyone who has already taken one dose to take their second shot … taking both are important for maximum protection,” a second government official aware of the matter said on condition of anonymity.

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