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India has administered 1 billion vaccine doses to its citizens, moving closer to 100% goal

Last week, India passed an important milestone: the country has administered 1 billion doses of COVID vaccine to its citizens, according to government data. With this, roughly 75% of its population has been immunized with at least one dose — around 708 million people. Around one-third (30%) of the country has been fully immunized with two shots of vaccine.

Image credits Christian Emmer.

Other countries have managed similar vaccination rates as percentages of their population — Canada, for example, sits at around the 77% mark, while Portugal hit 88% — but India’s achievement impresses through sheer numbers. One billion doses are no small feat.

The country has had a pretty rough experience with this pandemic. But it also made sizeable efforts to contend with the virus, and this achievement carries on that trend.

For example, India was among the first countries to issue lockdowns and use contact tracing to limit the spread of the coronavirus. Still, things have not been going swimmingly for the country, especially since the rise of the Delta variant, and for a long time, India was among the countries with the most cases.

High score

“This achievement belongs to India, every citizen of India,” wrote Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Twitter (original tweet in Hindi). “I express my gratitude to all the vaccine manufacturing companies of the country, workers engaged in vaccine transportation, health sector professionals engaged in vaccine development.”

India’s very large population, currently inching toward the 1.4 billion mark, is one of the factors working against its efforts to combat the coronavirus pandemic. Other populous countries know how challenging it can be to source, deliver, and administer a large number of vaccine doses. Even countries with lower populations but robust infrastructures and strong economies — like the USA — have had their own hiccups in vaccination efforts.

Apart from this, India’s population is still largely rural, living outside metropolitan areas. Its economy, although large and diverse, is still mostly people-driven, and much less resilient to public health issues than those of more developed countries. Its infrastructure is also relatively undeveloped in many geographical areas.

This all makes the country’s vaccination milestone all that much more impressive.

Against this backdrop, New Delhi is setting even more ambitious goals for itself. Government officials are aiming to have all of India’s adult population vaccinated by the end of the year. I, personally, cheer them on, although I do have my reservations regarding how feasible such a target actually is. Experience in other areas of the world shows us that the last steps towards full vaccination are the hardest, and slowest to go through.

Still, reaching that goal means India will need to administer around 1.8 billion doses. A production target the government set in June called for 2 billion doses to be produced by December. Local manufacturers have reportedly ramped up production in recent months to reach that target.

India started its vaccination program in January of this year. So far, only those above 18 years of age can receive a shot. Several vaccines have been approved for use by the government, including the AstraZeneca shot and the Russian Sputnik-V. A new vaccine, a three-dose shot produced by local manufacturer Cadila Healthcare, has also been approved for use in those under 18.

There are over 70,000 state-run vaccination centers currently administering free shots in India. A further 2,000 private centers also offer vaccine shots, although these charge for the service.