What role can India play in coronavirus vaccine inoculation?

New Delhi Edited By: Gravitas deskUpdated: Feb 24, 2021, 07:43 AM IST
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Representative image Photograph:(Reuters)

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India is running the world's largest vaccination drive right now. It could be the catalyst that the global vaccination drive needs

Are you ready to live with the coronavirus for another five years? Answer is surely no. The entire world is desperate for the pandemic to end, but for it, we need herd immunity. The global population is now close to eight billion. Out of this, 75 per cent needs to be vaccinated. Each individual need two doses. So, where do we stand? 

Right now, more than six million shots are being administered every day across the world. At this rate, it will take five years to cover 75 per cent of the world's population. We started in 2021 with vaccines but the rollout has been terribly slow. Rich countries are hoarding vaccines and there is a supply shortage. 

Countries like Japan might waste millions of shots as they don't have the right needles. Last week, the United Nations said 130 countries still haven't received even a single shot. The global vaccination programme needs a jump start and India can help. 

India is running the world's largest vaccination drive right now. It could be the catalyst that the global vaccination drive needs. There are two reasons.  

Firstly, India has a population of more than one billion. It is almost 18 per cent of the world's total population. If India vaccinates 75 per cent of its population. Close to a billion people will be immune to the virus. This can encourage more people around the world to take vaccines. 

Secondly, India's vaccine manufacturing capabilities. Before the pandemic, India produced 60 per cent of the vaccines for the world and delivering 390 million doses annually for aliments like measles and tuberculosis already. 


India is contributing to the global fight as it is sending vaccines to all corners of the world. Both under commercial contracts as well as gifts. By mid February, India exported more than 1.6 crore shots. 37 per cent of these supplies were gifts to friendly countries and a large shipment of the oxford vaccine was dispatched from India for Covax, the global vaccine alliance, led by the World Health Organization. These shots will be sent to 25 to 30 countries. 

What about India's own vaccination drive? How is the world's largest vaccination drive faring? 

It depends on which numbers you consider. India was the fastest country to administer six million shots. The second fastest to complete 10 million vaccinations. As of today, more than 1.17 crore shots have been given. 

India ranks number five after the United States, China, the European Union, the United Kingdom, when it comes to the sheer number of doses administered. India administered its first shot on the 16th of January. 

In less than 40 days, it has administered more than one crore shots. But how close are we to inoculating 75 per cent of our population, the herd immunity mark? India has a long way to go. 

As of the Feburary 21, India has administered just 0.8 doses per 100 people. Not even one shot per 100. 

Till Monday, less than 0.1 per cent of India had been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus. Not even one per cent of India has got a shot. And India is the pharmacy of the world. But is it doing enough when it comes to inoculating its own people? 

Supplying vaccines to the world is great, but is it happening at the cost of people at home? It's important to understand India's current rollout plan. 

Right now, the vaccine drive is in the hands of the government. The government procures the vaccines and sends them to vaccination centres around the country. 

For the moment, only health workers are being inoculated in India. The govt's targets are ambitious as India set a goal to inoculate 300 million people by August but as of the beginning of February, the Serum Institute of India, the world's largest vaccine maker and the supplier of the oxford shot was sitting on a stockpile of 70 million doses.  

India has more than enough doses to share with the world and vaccinate its own. There's a stockpile of millions waiting to be used. What India needs is wider administration of the vaccine and more centres. 

This is where the private players come in. If the vaccine is safe and the stock is available. The private sector should be allowed to join the programme. The same happened with testing. Virus testing on a wide scale began once the private sector was made part of it. So why is the govt shy of including the private sector in the vaccination drive? 

Remember, these vaccines are still new and most countries in the world have granted restricted permissions to vaccine makers for two reasons. One for shortage in supplies and two to avoid adverse events, in case the vaccines show any major side effects. 

India is following global standards with restricted permissions. It granted vaccines an emergency approval first. Reports say no adverse effects have been found so far. So, India needs to evolve its strategy and rollout plan, and consider involving the private sector. In fact, the serum institute has said that the rest of the world will have to wait for its supplies. It has been directed to fulfil the domestic needs first. It's a welcome step as India needs to expand its domestic programme. Else, the 300 million target will be hard to chase.