Many 'challenges' ahead in India’s coronavirus vaccination program

Last week, country crossed 1B doses of COVID-19 vaccine


Anadolu Agency October 30, 2021
People walk at a crowded market in the old quarters of Delhi, India, April 6, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW DELHI:

Even as India crossed the milestone of 1 billion coronavirus vaccine doses last week, many challenges remain in its vaccination program before the country inoculates the entire nation, according to health experts.

Soon after India crossed the mark, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the country has scripted "history."

Health Ministry figures revealed early Saturday that vaccination coverage has exceeded 1,054,313,977.

According to official statistics, more than 75% of those who are eligible have received one dose, while more than 30% have been fully vaccinated.

But health experts said many challenges await.

"When we break down the 1 billion figure, then we will see it is not 1 billion people but 1 billion shots, which translates to around 31% of adults having received both shots and another 45% receiving only one shot," Chandrakant Lahariya, a Delhi-based epidemiologist and public health expert told Anadolu Agency.

He said there is still 24% of the population that has not received a single dose. "So itself is a big challenge ahead," he said. "There has to be attention on increasing coverage for people who have to receive the second dose."

Lahariya noted that special efforts are to be made to ensure coverage for those who have yet to start their vaccination and to address vaccination hesitancy.

During a national review meeting with health ministers from various states, Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya said Thursday that "there are more than 10.34 crore (over 100 million) people in the country who have not taken the second dose after the prescribed interval.”

He stressed covering all those who are eligible for the first dose by the end of November.

Srinath Reddy, president of the Public Health Foundation think tank, said there is a need to vaccinate people who have not received a second dose.

"Some of them have not reported for it. So, we have to trace them because people now believe that danger is over and they are back to work," he said "In rural areas and small towns, we need to reach a little more. Giving the second dose to the people where it is due, is absolutely important," he told Anadolu Agency.

He also said there is a need to increase first dose coverage for younger people.

"But, the first thing is that for the most vulnerable section to make sure that a second dose is given. That is the critical element right now," he said.

Reddy lists challenges in the present vaccination program, including vaccinating many more people, giving the complete dosage to the adult population and children who are immunodeficient or who have comorbidities. “It will probably take the first quarter of next year to achieve all this," he said.

Smaller 3rd wave

While India is now registering fewer cases in its ongoing second wave, experts believe a larger third ripple is unlikely.

As of early Saturday, the infection mark was 34.26 million, 14,313 new cases in the last 24 hours. The death toll stands at 457,740.

Lahariya said it can be “scientifically" assured that there will not be a bigger third wave.

"With the ongoing delta variant, as India had a severe second wave, we can reasonably be assured, natural infection followed by one shot of vaccination provides good protection. There is fair confidence one can have. India won't have a large, national, subsequent third wave, but state or sub-state specific waves can't be ruled out," he said.

While Reddy echoes the views of Lahariya, he cautioned that a new variant may change the calculus.

"In the last six months, many people have been infected and many people have been vaccinated with one dose, so the likelihood of a large third wave -- at the country level is not high. However, if a new variant comes in, that will change the dynamics," he said.

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