India administered more than 20 million Covid vaccine doses in a day on Friday in a record-breaking effort to mark PM Narendra Modi’s 71st birthday.
The effort surpassed the country’s previous daily record of more than 13 million doses on 27 August.
India aims to vaccinate all eligible Indians by the end of 2021 but experts say the drive needs to pick up a consistent pace to meet the target.
It has so far given more than 787 million doses of three approved jabs.
More than half of India’s eligible population – some 588 million people – have received at least one dose of a Covid vaccine, according to official data.
But only about 20% of eligible adults have been fully vaccinated since the beginning of the drive-in January.
India has reported more than 33 million Covid cases, second only to the US. The country is also only the third in the world to record more than 440,000 deaths – behind the US and Brazil.
How is India’s rollout going?
Since 16 January, India has administered more than 787 million doses.
About 588 million people have received the first dose and another 195 million or so have received both doses so far.
India gave six million jabs on an average every day in August, compared to 4.3 million daily jabs in July, according to official data. But September has seen a rise with more than 7.4 million doses administered daily.
Experts say record-breaking days are encouraging but vaccination rates need to rise consistently. They estimate that India needs to give more than 10 million doses a day to fully vaccinate all eligible adults by the end of 2021.
India’s daily case count has been dropping – it has been reporting less than 40,000 new daily cases in the past month and most of them from the southern state of Kerala.
But doctors say that a third wave is likely given that the country has fully reopened even as the threat of new variants looms large.
While the vaccination drive has gained momentum, experts worry about a gender gap – government data shows 6% fewer women are getting vaccinated. This is especially true in rural India where women have limited access to the internet and are hesitant or scared to take the vaccine.
Although a higher number of doses are being administered daily in rural areas, the share of population being vaccinated in urban areas is still greater.
Most countries, especially those in the developing world, have struggled to access vaccines – a challenge that India, as the world’s largest vaccine maker, didn’t expect to face.
In June, the government told the Supreme Court that 1.35 billion doses will become available between August and December. It would take about 1.8 billion doses to vaccinate all eligible adults in India.
Which vaccines is India using?
India is using three vaccines – the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab, known locally as Covishield; Covaxin by Indian firm Bharat Biotech; and Russian-made Sputnik V.
India recently gave boost to its vaccination programme by approving its first vaccine for those under 18.
The three-dose ZyCoV-D vaccine prevented symptomatic disease in 66% of those vaccinated, according to an interim study quoted by the vaccine maker Cadila Healthcare. The ZyCoV-D vaccine is also the world’s first DNA vaccine against Covid-19.
The government has also authorised Indian pharma company Cipla to import Moderna’s vaccine, which has shown nearly 95% efficacy against Covid-19. But it’s not clear yet how many doses will be made available to India.
Several more vaccines are in various stages of approval.
Vaccination is voluntary. More than 100,000 centres, mostly state-run, offered jabs on Friday, but people can also pay for a dose at private facilities.
The government is spending around $5bn to provide free doses at state-run clinics, public health centres and hospitals
Have there been ‘adverse events’ after vaccination?
People can experience side effects from vaccines.
India has a 34-year-old surveillance programme for monitoring “adverse events” following immunisation. Experts say a failure to transparently report such incidents could lead to fear-mongering around vaccines.
India has reported more than 23,000 “adverse events” after vaccination as of 17 May. Most of them were classified as “minor” – anxiety, vertigo, giddiness, dizziness, fever and pain.
It also examined 700 cases of “severe adverse events” and reported 488 deaths until mid-June.
But the government said this did not mean they were due to vaccination, adding that “the risk of dying following vaccination is negligible compared to the known risk of dying due to Covid-19 disease”.