India seriously launched a vaccination campaign for its 1.38 billion people in mid-January. Healthcare professionals, front-line workers and the elderly were first, followed by people over 45 in April, then adults between 18 and 45 in May. But this latter range, which covers around 43% of the population, has proven to be a critical point.
After a peak in Covid-19 infections across the country in April, Prime Minister Narendra Modi accelerated plans to scale up the program and opened the May 1 vaccination to the population aged 18 to 45.
The move prompted a rush of people in this age group, which corresponds to 600 million people, to register on the government’s immunization website, CoWIN. But at the same time, there has been no corresponding increase in the supply of vaccines.
On June 4, India provided at least one dose to around 50 million people aged 18 to 44, representing just 8% of that population group.
Adding to the difficulties, a privilege loophole has arisen in the immunization program, with hospitals charging different prices for the same vaccine. Some hospitals in wealthier areas sold the Covishield vaccine made in India for 1,800 rupees ($ 126) a dose, nearly double the price elsewhere.
The urban population also received the vaccines more quickly than that of the rural areas. This means that vaccines remain unavailable for a large part of the population who cannot afford or have little or no access to private hospitals.
India – the world’s largest producer of vaccines for polio, diphtheria and other diseases – had sold or donated more than 66 million Covid-19 vaccines to 95 countries as of mid-April.
But as infections began to increase internally in mid-March, the clamor for the vaccines has also increased. India has therefore started importing vaccines and is also awaiting donations from the United States.
Modi’s government expects immunization supplies to increase dramatically from June. It also plans to produce enough doses by December to immunize all the estimated 950 million adults, although 18 to 45 year olds are last on the priority list.
Several Indian states have gradually started lifting restrictions on travel and business after a drop in cases in recent weeks.
However, health experts have warned that cases could rise again when most states reopen the economy and called for accelerating vaccination.
As of June 8, less than 4% of India’s adult population had received the necessary two doses of the vaccine. Almost 14% have received at least one dose – and in the age group between 18 and 45, less than 10% have been vaccinated.