Omicron threat: How fast is India vaccinating against COVID-19

Rate too slow to meet target of vaccinating every eligible by end of year. The question is: Can Omicron further derail India’s fight against novel coronavirus

By Vibha Varshney
Published: Friday 03 December 2021
उत्तर प्रदेश के लखनऊ में कोविड-19 वैक्सीन लगाने का काम शुरू हुआ। फोटो: रणविजय सिंह
उत्तर प्रदेश के लखनऊ में कोविड-19 वैक्सीन लगाने का काम शुरू हुआ। फोटो: रणविजय सिंह उत्तर प्रदेश के लखनऊ में कोविड-19 वैक्सीन लगाने का काम शुरू हुआ। फोटो: रणविजय सिंह

On December 2, 2021, India reported two persons who were positive to the Omicron variant of the novel coronavirus. With them, there are now 375 cases of the latest variant of concern (VOC) reported from 30 countries.  

The new VOC is 500 per cent more competitively infectious; in South Africa, it is spreading faster than the previous ones.

The Indian government has reiterated the importance of vaccination to combat this variant. A total 1.257 billion doses of the vaccines against the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) had been administered in the country through December 2 (10:30 pm). With that, 58.16 per cent of India’s adult population was fully vaccinated, the government’s CoWin website claimed.

India has plans to vaccinate all eligible people in the country by the end of the year. But that may not be possible at the current pace of vaccination. According to data shared by the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare MOHFW (December 2), the average doses of the vaccine administered were:

  • June - 3.989 million / day 
  • July - 4.341 million / day
  • August - 5.929 million / day
  • September - 7.869 million / day
  • October - 5.577 million / day
  • November - 5.932 million / day

India has around 1 billion adults, who would require 2 bilion doses to be fully vaccinated. As of now, 0.795 billion have received at least one dose while 0.462 billion people are fully vaccinated.

This suggests that at least 0.75 billion more doses are needed to reach the target of vaccinating everyone. According to the ministry, states have 0.22 billion doses with them. Thus 0.53 billion doses more are needed.

There are two factors that could derail the government’s plan to vaccinate everyone by the end of the year. 

First, availability. Covishield has been so far been used more, at 1.110 billion doses administered.  Only 0.128 billion doses of Covaxin have been used. Shortages are probable: Serum Institute of India resumed exporting Covishield to the international COVAX facility November 26. 

The company has produced 1.25 billion doses yet. It had committed 550 million doses for COVAX this year, but a major part of its output was used domestically even as cases surged.

The availability of Covaxin is likely to be meager: The company expanded production but additional, public sector manufacturers are yet to produce.

The vaccine was approved for emergency use by the World Health Organisation November 3, 2021. Bharat Biotech International Ltd reportedly planned to make 70-80 million doses each month from December. 

Even Bharat Biotech has resumed exports: “Long-pending xport orders were executed in November and would be expanded in the following months,” revealed the company in a tweet on November 29. 

The second point to consider is the speed at which the country can vaccinate. The maximum most dosage that have been administered so far is 250 million / per day. At that rate, it would take 30 days to vaccinate everyone. 

But the number of daily dosage is much lower in India. Eg, December 2, only 0.0073 billion (7,357,777) vaccines were administered. At this rate, it would take at least 100 days to vaccinate the remaining population.

During the last week, the number of vaccines being administered in India have been hovering around this figure:

  • November 26 — 8.388 million in the last 24 hrs
  • November 27 — 7.358 million in the last 24 hrs
  • November 28 — 8.286 million in the last 24 hrs
  • November 29 — 4.204 million in the last 24 hrs
  • November 30 — 7.880 million in the last 24 hrs
  • December 1 — 8.098 million in the last 24 hrs
  • December 2 — 8.035 million in the last 24 hrs

Lower than expected availability of vaccines could be the reason for this. In an affidavit filed to the  Supreme Court in June, the government estimated that it would be able to supply 0.516 billion doses by the end of July and 1.35 billion doses between August and December. Supply was expected from 5 companies, out of which, two, by Zydus Cadilla and Biological E, are yet to be launched.

When the vaccination drive was started in India in January, it was believed that vaccinating 60 per cent of the population would provide herd immunity to those unvaccinated. Despite the fact that we are near this magic figure, the virus is continuing to sicken people. On December 2, there were 99763 active cases in the country. 

With the Omicron variant on the prowl, there is a need to increase vaccination rates. In India, 2 cases were reported on December 2. Out of this, one is a South African national who has since returned back and the second is a doctor who has no travel history. 

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