India crossed the 100-crore vaccine dose mark on October 22, a milestone in its fight against coronavirus overcoming logistic challenges and hesitancy as healthcare workers climbed mountains, crossed rivers and walked deserts to jab adult Indians against the dreaded virus.
One billion doses is an achievement for the country that was brought to its knees by a devastating second wave in April-May that saw infections and daily deaths zoom to record highs.The drive, too, wobbled midway as India, which was sending out vaccines to other countries, ran short of supplies but it managed to ramp-up production to accelerate the pace of vaccination, the only protection against the virus that has been mutating after it was first reported in China in late 2019
Union Minister of State for Health and Family Welfare Bharati Pravin Pawar on October 21 said that the government has set a target of vaccinating the country’s entire adult population by the end of the year. While virtually addressing the FICCI’s “Healthcare Excellence Awards ceremony, Pawar informed that under the ‘Make in India’ initiative of Prime Minister Narendra Modi India is one of the leading countries in the global medical devices market in the world.Detailing the success amid challenges posed by COVID-19, the Union minister said, “More than 99 crore doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in the country and the government has set a target of vaccinating the country’s entire adult population by end of the year.”
To mark the completion of administering of 100 crore COVID-19 vaccine doses, the largest khadi tricolour in the country, weighing around 1,400 kg, will be displayed at the Red Fort on Thursday, official sources said. The same tricolour with dimensions 225 feet by 150 feet was unfurled on October 2 Gandhi Jayanti in Leh, they said.Speaking about the flag, a source said, The same 1,400-kg handwoven khadi tricolour, the largest in the country, which was unfurled in Leh to mark Mahatma Gandhi’s 152nd birth anniversary and the 75th year of Independence will also be displayed at the Red Fort to mark the occasion (100 crore doses).
The flag is the largest handwoven and handspun cotton khadi flag ever manufactured in India and it measures 225 feet by 150 feet, the source said.”Congratulations to the people&healthcare workers of India. It’s remarkable to reach 1 billion dose mark for any nation,an achievement in just over 9 months since the vaccination program started in India,” said Dr VK Paul, Member-Health,NITI Aayog.
The 100-crore vaccination milestone is seen as a big achievement because the country has dealt with supply shortage with vaccine makers unable to ramp up production to meet the sudden rise in demand, distribution hassles with a weak cold-chain network and vaccine hesitancy in the early days.
The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has said that the vaccination drive was based on six principles–to include everyone above 18 years and give free vaccination at government health centres, the government providing financial and technological support to indigenous vaccines, pursuing a layered approach of prioritising certain populations, developing a digital interface to coordinate work, sharing learnings and resources with the global community, and by consulting and collaborating with stakeholders.
To reach remote areas, like the Karang Island in Loktak lake, the government even arranged for drones. Senior government scientist Dr Samiran Panda told BBC that in states such as Manipur and Nagaland even ferries are being reach distant corners.
Difficult early days
At the peak of the second wave, the Indian government had faced criticism for delaying the procurement of vaccines. This April, the former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had even sent a five-point letter to the Prime Minister Narendra Modi asking the government to finance and support the private sector, to ramp up production, to widen the eligible categories and allow vaccines cleared by credible international agencies such as European Medical Agency or the USFDA to be imported without domestic bridge trials.
From May 1, the government opened vaccination for those above 18 and, in June, the Drug Controller General of India (DGCI) announced that vaccines from certain countries and those under WHO’s Emergency Use Listing (EUL) will not need bridging trials.
While the anticipation to hit the milestone was building up, Bloomberg’s vaccine tracker delivered a sombre note. It said that there is a “yawning gap” between those who have received the first dose and those who have received both the doses. “While it is likely to hit the billion-doses mark this week, the country has only given two shots to nearly 21% of its population of about 1.4 billion,” said a Bloomberg report. According to experts, at least 60 percent of the population will need to receive both the doses to stop the third wave.