NEW DELHI (India) -India gave out a record 5 million vaccine doses on Monday under a federal campaign to inoculate all adults for free after weeks of criticism that a chaotic rollout had worsened a second wave that killed hundreds of thousands.
Earlier this month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the government would buy 75% of all vaccines from drug makers and distribute those for free to states, which along with private hospitals, had earlier been buying shots for people aged 18-45.
“It marks the beginning of the end of adversities related to COVID-19 in the country,” Giridhara Babu, a member of the Indian Council of Medical Research, the country’s main health research agency said.
Since May, widespread shortages worsened a divide between urban and rural areas, as many younger people in cities turned to private hospitals, paying between $9-$24 a dose.
That drew criticism that millions were vulnerable to infections, particularly in the countryside where two-thirds of the population lives.
Experts have warned of a potential third wave as only about 5% of all 950 million eligible people are fully inoculated with two doses even as daily infections have fallen this month.
Over the last 24 hours, India reported 53,256 infections, the lowest since March 24. Infections hit a peak of about 400,000 a day in May and deaths soared to around 170,000 in April-May.
India, with an overall case load of 29.9 million, is second-highest globally behind the United States.
And as most cities have begun lifting lockdown curbs, experts have cautioned that a swift reopening could complicate a vaccination programme that needs to be at least four times faster.
Over the last 30 days, India has administered an average 2.7 million doses a day.
The country is using domestically made doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine and Indian company Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin. The Indian government is attempting to secure foreign vaccines such as Pfizer and has waived strict rules to allow quicker imports.
In the western state of Maharashtra, hardest hit by the second wave, authorities said shortages persist and older age groups between 30-45 would be a priority.
“We have enough stock that will hopefully last us for the next three to four days, but have no visibility on stock supplies after that,” Santosh Revankar, a senior health official in Mumbai’s civic body said.
In New Delhi, city authorities criticised the federal government for inadequate supplies.