India has become the “fastest country in the world” to administer more than 100 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines, amid a deadly second wave of infections.
The country achieved the feat in 85 days, whereas the US took 89 days and China 102 days, the Indian health ministry said.
However, India reported a record daily increase of over 150,000 cases – and more than 800 new deaths – on April 11.
There are reports the vast vaccination drive itself is struggling.
This week, half a dozen states reported a shortage of doses even as the federal government insisted that it had 40 million doses in stock and that the “allegations” of vaccine scarcity were “utterly baseless”.
The inoculation drive aims to cover 250 million people by July, but experts say the pace needs to pick up further to meet the target.
Everyone aged over 45 is now eligible for immunization at vaccination centers and hospitals. Most doses have so far been given to frontline workers and the over-60s.
The third phase – which began on April 1 – opened amid a sharp uptick in Covid-19 cases. India has been reporting an average of more than 90,000 cases every day since then.
On April 4, India became the second country after the US to report 100,000 new cases in a single day. More than half of those were confirmed in Maharashtra, which has India’s largest city Mumbai as its capital.
The country’s caseload had dropped sharply by the time it began vaccinating people early this year. It was adding under 15,000 infections daily. But cases began to spike again in March, largely driven by poor test-and-trace and lax safety protocols.
Experts say India’s second wave is being fuelled by people being less cautious – and mixed messaging by the government.
Since the pandemic began, India has confirmed more than 12 million cases and over 167,000 deaths. It’s the third-highest number of Covid-19 infections in the world after the US and Brazil.
India launched its vaccination program on January 16, but it was limited to healthcare workers and frontline staff – a sanitation worker became the first Indian to receive the vaccine.
From March 1, the eligibility criteria was expanded to include people over 60 and those aged between 45 and 59 with other illnesses.
The third phase included everyone above the age of 45.
India’s drugs regulator has given the green light to two vaccines – one developed by AstraZeneca with Oxford University (Covishield) and one by Indian firm Bharat Biotech (Covaxin). Several other candidates are at different stages of trials.