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COVID vaccines

India jabs 22m in single day as it races to vaccinate all adults

Nation must maintain pace of 10m shots a day to reach December goal

A vaccination takes place at a hotel in Patna on Sept. 15. India is in a race against time as it fears a spike in cases during the October to December festival season.   © Getty Images

NEW DELHI -- With its COVID vaccination drive gathering pace in recent weeks, India has crossed a major milestone, administering at least one dose to over 60% of its eligible adult population of 940 million.

On Friday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's 71st birthday, India set a single-day vaccination record by delivering over 22 million shots by 9 p.m. "Every Indian would be proud of today's record vaccination number," Modi wrote in a tweet that also acknowledged the contribution of doctors, nurses and other front-line workers.

About 62% of the adult population of India has received at least one shot, and 20% has been fully vaccinated, the country's health secretary, Rajesh Bhushan, said at a media briefing on Thursday evening.

"The average daily vaccination rate is increasing," Bhushan said, pointing out that in the first 15 days of September alone, more than 7.4 million doses per day were administered, compared with about 6 million shots per day last month and 4.34 million a day in July.

Since late August, India has on four occasions administered more than 10 million doses in a single day. As of Thursday, the South Asian nation of over 1.3 billion people had administered 771.7 million doses nationwide -- 582.1 million first doses and 189.6 million second doses -- since launching its vaccination drive, also the world's biggest, in mid-January.

On Monday, the World Health Organization lauded India for accelerating its inoculation program. "[The] WHO congratulates India for scaling up COVID-19 vaccination at an unprecedented pace," said the U.N. agency's Southeast Asia regional director, Poonam Khetrapal Singh. "While it took 85 days to administer [the] first 100 million doses, India reached 750 million doses from 650 million in just 13 days," Singh said in message shared by WHO Southeast Asia on Twitter.

Goa, in western India, and Himachal Pradesh, in the north, are among the states that have covered 100% of their populations with at least one dose.

Speaking to people in Himachal Pradesh by video link on Sept. 6, Modi pointed out that India is vaccinating its citizens at record speed. "This means that the number of vaccinations in India in one day is more than the population of many countries," Modi said.

India has approved six vaccines for emergency use: Covishield, the local name of the AstraZeneca vaccine. which is manufactured domestically by the Serum Institute of India; indigenously developed jabs Covaxin and ZyCov-D; Russia's Sputnik V; and shots from U.S.-based Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.

The government is mainly using Covishield and Covaxin in its drive to fully vaccinate India's entire adult population by December. It will have to again step up the pace, like it did on Modi's birthday, if it is to reach that goal.

"The current vaccination speed is good, but there is still scope for improvement," Rajinder K. Dhamija, head of the neurology department at New Delhi's Lady Hardinge Medical College, told Nikkei Asia, pointing out that over 10 million doses must be administered every day for India to vaccinate everyone over 18 with the two required doses by year-end. Johnson & Johnson's vaccine, whose India rollout timeline is not known, is a single shot, while ZyCov-D, which is expected to debut in October, is a three-dose vaccine.

India is the world's second most affected country by the pandemic, after the U.S., and has so far confirmed over 33 million cases, of which about 340,000 are active.

This festival scene took place on Sept. 10 in Mumbai despite the COVID-19 outbreak.   © Reuters

According to health ministry data issued on Thursday, the southern state of Kerala is the worst hit in the country, with about 57% of India's active cases, followed by Maharashtra in the west, with 15.16%. Behind them are three more southern states: Tamil Nadu, with 4.7%; Karnataka, with 4.5%; and Andhra Pradesh, with 4.1%.

Amid fears that the October to December festival season may lead to a rise in cases, the government has urged people to wear masks, maintain social distancing and avoid crowds. "We should be very careful in the coming months and adopt COVID-appropriate practices" to help prevent a surge in cases, said V.K Paul, the government's top adviser on COVID-19.

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