India has administered more than 28 million vaccinations as on March 12, the official update released on March 13, 2021, shows. Of these, 82 percent beneficiaries have received their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine while 18 percent or around 5.1 million have got their second dose.
Vaccination has picked up pace this month crossing over 2 million doses administered in a single day twice in March. However, the pace hasn’t been consistent. Only 0.48 million doses were administered as per the March 12 update. The government attributed the lower vaccination numbers to the gazetted holiday on March 11 on the occasion of Mahashivratri. But as the chart shows, the pace had fallen even before that day.
Still, the good news is that vaccination rebounded to 2.05 million doses (the highest number of vaccinations administered in a single day), as per March 13 update. It is important that this pace be maintained in the face of a surge in fresh COVID-19 cases. New cases reported on March 13 were 24,882, the highest since December 20, while active cases have once again crossed the 2 lakh mark after 53 days.
After the initial reluctance among healthcare workers, the pace has picked up because the public at large has embraced the vaccine. It has also got a celebrity endorsement of sorts with several ministers from the Union Cabinet starting from the prime minister, prominent businessmen such as Infosys co-founder NR Narayana Murthy and actors taking the jab.
Starting March, the government roped in private sector hospitals for Phase-2 of the vaccination drive, another reason for the pick-up in pace.
But clearly more needs to be done. When the inoculation drive had started, the prime minister had said that India aims to vaccinate at least 300 million people – just less than one-third of its population -- in the first phase by the end of July. This will include health care workers, frontline workers and prioritised age groups.
Reports have suggested that the government intends to inoculate 1.3 million people per day. Now if we assume that 26.1 million single doses have been administered as on March 12, it will take at least another 208 days to reach 270 million single doses (or the remaining of the 300 million target to take their first jab) considering 1.3 million per day. At 2 million vaccinations per day, this can be done in 135 days – this is the minimum required to meet the end of July target.
The growing number of hospitals administering the vaccine will help. But experts have called for involving the private sector deeper in this drive.
“The participation of the private players — which is not limited to the big corporates — would play a significant role in the mass inoculation strategies,” experts have opined. “The staff at private labs, NGOs, CSOs, supermarket chains, etc. could be trained for this drive.”
But what about the supply of the vaccine itself?
Reports suggest there could be challenges in manufacturing the vaccines due to a shortage of raw and packaging materials, consumables and equipment needed to make vaccines. The Union government responding to the Rajasthan government's claim that there is a shortage in COVID-19 vaccine stock has clarified that there is no shortage of vaccine doses in any state across the country.