With 1.38 billion inhabitants, India’s vaccine rollout is one of the largest in the world and will reach a milestone on Thursday after 998.5 million doses were injected throughout the country. Nearly 90 percent of them were the AstraZeneca (AZN.L) vaccine which was produced locally by the Serum Institute of India, according to Reuters.
On Twitter, local health minister Mansukh Mandaviya asked all Indians to praise the billionth dose that will be inoculated as it “celebrates the landmark milestone.”
“I appeal to all unvaccinated Indians to quickly get their shots and contribute to our historic golden vaccination journey,” he also tweeted.
Mr Mandaviya has set up a celebratory song and an audio-visual film to be launched at the Mughal-era Red Fort in New Delhi around noon (local time).
India was heavily impacted by the pandemic before being hit by a second wave of infections of the Delta variant that surged through the country between April and May.
The government’s official records have so far reported 34.1 million COVID-19 cases and more than 452,000 deaths but the figures may not represent the total number as many have been undocumented.
A study, carried out by the US-based Center for Global Development, estimates that between 3 million and 4.7 million more people died between January 2020 and June 2021.
The researchers concluded that the first wave “was also more lethal than is widely believed” and that about 2 million people may have died in the first wave alone.
State governments and local administrations across India have been accused of undercounting Covid-19 deaths on purpose, while the stigma attached to the virus also prevented many people from getting tested, so many deaths also went unrecorded as Covid-19 fatalities.
Although the billionth dose is good news, the country is currently facing a massive disparity between the partially and fully vaccinated.
The government wants all of India’s 944 million adults to get vaccinated this year, but, as of now, 75 percent of them have got at least one dose and 31 percent have had two.
25 percent of adults (345 million people) who are eligible to receive free vaccination are still unvaccinated.
Narendra Modi’s government is aware of this problem and has called on states and union territories to focus on administering the second dose, and advised them to share strategies to close the gap.
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A “sizeable number” of people in India have not taken their second dose by the due date despite adequate supplies, the health ministry said on Tuesday, as new infections fell to their lowest since early March.
Only one other country has administered over a billion vaccine doses – China (crossed 1 billion doses in June), which is also the only other country to have a population of more than one billion.