How India’s Covid Vaccination Drive Gained Speed Despite Obstacles

India is second only to China in administering 1 billion doses of Covid vaccines. This was done in only 279 days. Over 100 crore doses of vaccination have been administered in the country so far. Within that time frame, the country has reached another milestone, vaccinating 75% of its adult population with at least one dose of the vaccine.

We Were Not Prepared As We Did Not Expect It

Over 71 crore out of India’s 94 crore adults have received the Covid vaccine, based on the latest data available from the union health ministry and Cowin. The second dose has been given to more than 29.5% of the 71 crores.

The vaccination drive in India is taking a positive turn after it was once criticized here and worldwide for facing vaccine shortages and being unable to find a clear path forward in the aftermath of the second Covid wave.

How India's Covid Vaccination Drive Gained Speed Despite Obstacles

Even so, India is well-positioned to fully vaccinate its entire adult population soon in just four months, with a more than sufficient stockpile, unlike just four months ago, when the country was facing bleak prospects. Several states had to suspend the vaccination drive due to the lack of vaccines.

After that, a plan of action was formulated that has been an essential tool in fighting this global pandemic which has been unprecedented in its scope. The Covid vaccination campaign in India presents several important lessons – about the dangers of Coronavirus, the spread of pandemics, and the steps to prevent its severity.

A rapid drop in cases and fatalities thereafter followed the peak of the first Covid wave in September 2021, the month with over 26 lakh new cases, which had the largest number of new cases per day for the first time in India, and over 1 lakh new cases each day. As of February this year, the number of new cases varied between 8,001 and 10,000 on several days.

As of the first two weeks of March, the five-day moving average of the growth of cases dropped to 0.20. It went to 0.11 and remained below 0.20 until the end of the month. In September of 2020, there were nearly 10 lakh active cases per day, but that dropped to 2.25 lakh in January 2021, then to 1.30-1.40 lakh in February. It took over 850 days for the cases to double.

Using these data, India decided to go with made-in-India vaccines, Covishield (developed by AstraZeneca-Oxford), and Covaxin and inoculated beneficiaries by sector and age in a phased manner. Data indicated that there was no likelihood of the Covid wave 2 when such decisions were made. The majority of Indians felt that the worst was over and that the infection and its dangers were largely contained within the country. 

As a result of the steady decline in new cases and a decrease in active cases over the last five months, we are now able to back our plans and development of an effective Covid strategy. The vaccine development took only 10 months, and there were also issues like vaccine hesitancy. Thus, public opinion of vaccination wasn’t positive, especially when Covid was no longer seen as a problem.

The country did not place any advanced orders for the Covishield vaccine, even if the Pune-based Serum Institute of India (SII) began producing stockpiles of the vaccine as early as 2020. It is expected that the company will produce around 10 crore doses of the vaccine every month by March 2021, compared to five crore doses produced by December 2020. However, it was clear that government demand governed the scaling up of production.

Vaccination Drive And Orders

Vaccination drives in India started on January 16, 2021. An estimated 1 crore healthcare workers were vaccinated as part of the first round of vaccinations in January. On average, 2,34,927 health care workers were inoculated daily with 37.58 lakh vaccines. The list of beneficiaries was expanded by around 2 crores in February. HCWs and FLWs received a total of 1.05 crore doses of vaccine – with an average of 3,76,515 doses administered per day.

How India's Covid Vaccination Drive Gained Speed Despite Obstacles

To meet its 3 crore beneficiary target, the Government of India ordered 6.6 crore doses of Covishield and Covaxin from Pfizer between January and February. In March 2021, mass vaccinations began in India. Thirty-crore people received vaccines. In March, 5.08 crore dosages were administered, or 16,39,246 vaccine doses on average each day.

A government order for 12 crore doses was also placed in May – 10 crores Covishield and 2 crores Covaxin. A vaccine was given to the entire population above 45 years of age beginning April 1. There were around 34.51 crore people vaccinated in this phase. In that month’s drive, 8.98 crore vaccine shots were administered, which is 29,95,724 doses per day.

Disastrous Second Covid Wave Pushed Up Demand For Vaccines

The devastating second Covid wave hit its peak in April as 66 lakh cases and 45,882 deaths were reported and the nation crossed the 200,000-death mark due to the pandemic. In the fourth phase of the drive-in May, when the second wave of Covid peaked, the inoculation drive was opened up for all 94 crore adults of the country.

Over 37 lakh cases are currently active. On May 6, India reached a record of 4.14 lakh new cases of Covid-19 – the highest number in a single day ever. More than 97% of employees were returned to work, but less than 80% did. Many days, there were between 3,000 and 4,000 deaths per day. As of June 9, there had been 6,148 Covid deaths, reaching their highest ever total for the month.

Vaccine Shortage

Although the demand for vaccination increased drastically after the second wave panic and the fear of another surge in the future, the manufacturing capacity in India remained the same: 7 to 8 crore doses per month with almost nothing in reserve. There wasn’t enough vaccine available in May to vaccinate the nation’s citizens. 

This represents an average of 20.35 lakh doses a day, which is a decrease of 32% from April’s 6.10 crore doses. Furthermore, import attempts failed since vaccines being made abroad had already been booked in advance. The scarcity of vaccines raised concerns. As a result of the liberalized vaccine policy that aimed to decentralize decision-making, state and union territory governments complained about a lack of doses, unfair distribution, and differences in prices between the Centre and the states. 

Corrective Measures

With the introduction of the vaccine drive on June 21, the vaccination drive was once again under the control of the government. Corrective measures included asking Indian manufacturers to increase their production capacity, making Cowin multilingual, and ensuring vaccine distribution to meet caseload demand and vaccine wasted factors, which were based on scientific evaluation, according to the Indian government. As well as stopping vaccine exports to other countries, the center stopped imports into the country until conditions improved.

How India's Covid Vaccination Drive Gained Speed Despite Obstacles

It seems the government has gone into overdrive this time to order vaccines in bulk, even the ‘promising but not yet approved’ vaccines, taking the same approach used by the United States and the majority of European nations that placed advance orders even before vaccinations began there. 16 crore Covishield and Covaxin doses were ordered by the company in May, followed by 66 crore doses in July.

Along with the approval of Russia’s Sputnik V, pharma companies in India also signed agreements to make India its global production hub, capable of manufacturing 85 crore doses per year. Sputnik V vaccine vials were expected to be available by August. Bharat Biotech and Serum Institute of India each announced in May they will increase their production levels by 10 to 12 crore doses by July. 

The government finalized a deal with SII, its largest partner, to provide India with at least 136 crore vaccine doses between August and December, despite Covaxin having failed on this front and Indian-made Sputnik V having yet to find its way in the Indian market. It was Covishield 85 percent of the time and Covaxin the rest. 

Additionally, India is expected to receive 2.5 crores of doses of both the Sputnik V vaccine and the Zydus Cadila vaccine. Various other agreements may be settled soon. Covavax, an Indian version of Novavax, is expected to be launched by SII this month. A month’s supply of Covavax is estimated to be 8 crores by the Serum Institute. 

Biological E in Hyderabad, which is developing the Corbevax vaccine, has also been invoicing India for 30 crore doses in advance. Most importantly, the central government decided to run a vaccination drive across the country free of charge to overcome vaccine hesitancy and make vaccinations affordable to all Indians, including the poorest.

Rapid Turnaround

It was worth the effort. Vaccinations were in high demand. Contrary to the last time, vaccine supplies were available this time. Just four months ago, the country faced a severe shortage of vaccines but is now reaching its targets. The country is on track to supply 11.95 crore doses of the Covid vaccine in June.

In June, 11.96 crore vaccinations were administered. It was estimated that 13,50 crore vaccine doses would be delivered in July. Over 31 days, 13,45 crore vaccine doses were administered. A target of 15 crore doses was expected for August. There were 13.38 crore monthly vaccinations this month, an increase of 22.5%.

How India's Covid Vaccination Drive Gained Speed Despite Obstacles

Covid vaccines were expected to be delivered in September in quantities of 18 and 22 crore. Using a lower limit of 18 crores as a benchmark, September exceeded its target by 31 percent, reaching 23.60 crores, up from 18.60 crores in August. Covid vaccines for vaccination are expected to be delivered in India in October in the number of 27-28 crore doses. There are no vaccine shortages this time. The second wave of complacency is about people neglecting Covid again, as they did before.


Edited by Anupama Roy

Nandana Valsan

Nandana Valsan is a Journalist/Writer by profession and an 'India Book of Records holder from Kochi, Kerala. She is pursuing MBA and specializes in Journalism and Mass Communication. She’s best known for News Writings for both small and large Web News Media, Online Publications, Freelance writing, and so on. ‘True Love: A Fantasy Bond’ is her first published write-up as a co-author and 'Paradesi Synagogue: History, Tradition & Antiquity' is her second successful write-up in a book as a co-author in the National Record Anthology. She has won Millenia 15 Most Deserving Youth Award 2022 in the category of Writer. A lot of milestones are waiting for her to achieve. Being a Writer, her passion for helping readers in all aspects of today's digital era flows through in the expert industry coverage she provides.

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