World

India's vaccination campaign slows despite huge vaccine stockpile

NEW DELHI India's vaccination campaign has slowed, though the country has record stockpiles of Covid-19 vaccines, Health Ministry data showed yesterday, as the authorities maintain a wider-than-usual gap between doses in a strategy that has boosted coverage.

Domestic production of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which accounts for nearly 90 per cent of administered doses, has more than tripled since May, when a supply shortage prompted India to double the period between doses to between 12 and 16 weeks.

That gap, exceeding the eight to 12 weeks recommended by the World Health Organisation, has allowed India to give at least one vaccine dose to 74 per cent of its 944 million adults, with just 30 per cent getting the full complement of two shots.

The AstraZeneca vaccine, known as Covishield, accounts for 861 million doses of India's total injected figure of 977.6 million. Its other main vaccine, Covaxin, has a dose interval of four to six weeks.

Over the past few days, daily stocks of all Covid-19 vaccines have exceeded 100 million doses, Health Ministry figures show, for states and federally controlled territories taken together.

In contrast, daily vaccinations have dropped to an average of five million doses this month and even less in the past week, off a daily peak of 25 million last month.

The ministry said it followed recommendations from a group of experts in making any changes to dosage, arrived at by weighing up "scientific and empirical" evidence.

However, vaccine supply alone should not determine the gap, said Dr Chandrakant Lahariya, a physician and epidemiologist in New Delhi.

"There is no scientific rationale for reducing the gap," he added. "In fact, retaining this gap has the possibility of giving stronger protection and longer-lasting immunity."

In July, studies estimated that more than two-thirds of Indians already had Covid-19 antibodies, mainly through infection.

Yesterday's 13,596 new cases took India's tally of infections past 34 million, though this was the lowest increase in 230 days. Deaths rose by 166 to stand at 452,290. - REUTERS

WORLD