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Race Against The Third Wave: Is India On Track To Vaccinate 60 Percent Population Against COVID-19 By December 2021? 

In the race to prevent third wave, what does India need to do to expand its vaccination drive? Experts weigh in about the challenges facing India’s vaccine drive

Race Against The Third Wave: Is India On Track To Vaccinate 60 Percent Population Against COVID-19 By December 2021? 

New Delhi: India administered more than 88.13 lakh COVID-19 vaccine doses on August 16, the highest ever vaccination achieved in a single day, the Union Health Ministry said on Tuesday. In a tweet, Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya said, “India achieves the highest single-day record in #COVID19 vaccine doses. Yesterday will go down in the history of the world’s #LargestVaccineDrive. Congratulations.”

India reported 25,166 new coronavirus cases on the same day and with 3.69 lakh active cases, India is witnessing a 5-month low in COVID-19 fresh as well as active cases. Cumulatively,  over 55 crore (55,47,30,609) vaccine doses have been administered as per the provisional report. This translates to 45 per cent of all adult Indians having received the first dose and 13 per cent both doses of the vaccine, the ministry said.

Also Read: Kerala Still Clocking A Jump In Daily Cases Of COVID-19, What Is Causing The Surge In Cases And Rise In Breakthrough Infections?

If we aim to stop the third wave, our target is to vaccinate 60 per cent of the population with both doses by December 2021, as per the experts. But is India doing enough to avert a third wave? In order to vaccinate 60 per cent of the population with both doses by December, India needs 10.4 million inoculations per day. The average vaccination shortfall per day over the last 7 days has been 4.9 million per day.

Furthermore, for India to meet its initial target of vaccinating the entire adult population by the end of 2021, the country needs to administer 1.88 billion doses in total, of which 1.66 billion or 87 per cent are yet to be administered.

In June, the Central government told the Supreme Court that 1.35 billion doses will become available between August and December. This is what the government presented with regards to the projected availability of five vaccines:

-500 millions doses of Covishield
-400 million doses of Covaxin
-300 million doses of a vaccine from Indian firm Biological E
-100 million doses from Sputnik V
-50 million doses of ZyCov-Di, being developed by Ahmedabad-based Zydus-Cadila

On 20 July, the Health Ministry responded to a question in Parliament by saying that Covishield production “is planned to be increased” from an estimated 110 million to more than 120 million doses a month.

When it comes to Covaxin, in May 2021, the government said that it was expecting a total of 400 million doses of Covaxin between August and December.

NDTV asked experts about the challenges facing India’s vaccine drive and what can be done to boost the vaccination numbers.

Also Read: COVID Vaccination Reduces Mortality Due To Delta Variant, Shows ICMR Study In Chennai

Dr Suneela Garg, Member of Lancet Commission, Advisor ICMR and WHO tells NDTV that India has administered over 55 crore doses and to inoculate 60 per cent population means we need to vaccinate about 108 crore people.

In this, we also need to take the people who have been infected into consideration, as they do not require the vaccination immediately. Next month onwards, we will have vaccines like Novovax, Sputnik Light, so overall we will have 130 crore more vaccine doses. Vaccination is a big challenge but we may see a rise in these numbers. We need to also take into consideration a few issues that need to be addressed. Firstly, the gender-based issues, second the most vulnerable population, that means the homeless population and prison inmates need to be immunised very fast. Also, we need to reach out to the rural and tribal areas.

Dr Garg says that the rate of first dose of vaccination is decent in India. However, according to several experts, due to vaccine cocktail not being available at the moment, both shots have to be of the same vaccine. So all the new vaccines coming up in India, may not be of great help for those waiting for their second dose. In this regard, Dr Garg explains,

We are thinking of heterologous (different) vaccination instead of homologous (same) vaccinations. This will be providing better immunity, as proven with regard to Covishield and Covaxin though we tested it on lesser number of doses and now it will be conducted on a larger basis. Other challenges that we need to look at from the vaccination perspective is that whether we need to increase our doses or need toggle in the form of booster doses or we need to do a fractional dose of vaccine.

Also Read: Pfizer, AstraZeneca COVID Vaccines Less Effective Against Delta Variant: Oxford-Led Study

Dr Shashank Joshi, a Member of COVID-19 task force in Maharashtra, says that the challenge of vaccination is a race against the third wave and is a very difficult and crucial task.

Maharashtra has now got 5 crore doses, for eligible population of 9 crores, the first dose is in. This is a reasonable rate with all the limitations we have. We will have to get into the innovative measures of vaccinating quicker and faster like the intradermal groups, fractioning the vaccines and using mix and matched vaccines, because we are definitely not as much on the schedule as we wanted to be.

Dr Joshi says that Indians have surpassed a critical threshold of some sort of a herd immunity against the Delta variant.

If the sero-survey is reasonable representative of the exposure, and the vaccination is now going at 88 lakhs per day, it is a very reassuring sign. But it remains a cause of concern that whether we will be able to keep it up before the third wave or not. This will also depend upon the variant of concern. If a new variant of concern emerges, whatever we predict, will go wrong. Let us hope and pray that our critical immune threshold remains, we continue vaccinating at this pace, or a little faster pace, and get out of is pandemic.

However, Dr Joshi says that we definitely need to do something more innovative and strategise it a little better.

Our prime vaccine that most people have received is Covishield, so we definitely need some innovation on that platform only. Other vaccines will come, but the production, supply and logistics need to match and that will till go through a learning curve. So I think by September, October, we should have a situation where we have surplus vaccine, but right now we are still struggling, Dr Joshi signed out.

Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh have administered more than 10 million vaccine doses in the 18-45 years age group. Also, Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Haryana, Jharkhand, Kerala, Telangana, Himachal Pradesh, Odisha, Punjab, Uttarakhand and West Bengal have vaccinated more than 1 million beneficiaries of the age group with the first dose. Kerala has administered at least 25 million doses till now, said the state health minister Veena George. Kerala has administered 25,520,478 doses. Of these, 18,682,463 were given the first dose and 6,838,015 were given the second dose.

NDTV – Dettol Banega Swasth India campaign is an extension of the five-year-old Banega Swachh India initiative helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. It aims to spread awareness about critical health issues facing the country. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (WaterSanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign highlights the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children to prevent maternal and child mortality, fight malnutrition, stunting, wasting, anaemia and disease prevention through vaccines. Importance of programmes like Public Distribution System (PDS), Mid-day Meal Scheme, POSHAN Abhiyan and the role of Aganwadis and ASHA workers are also covered. Only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and become a Swasth or healthy India. The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollutionwaste managementplastic banmanual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene

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