INDIA – More than half of India’s eligible population, some 473 million people, have received at least one dose of a Covid vaccine, official data says.

India has been ramping up its vaccination drive as it races to stave off a third wave of infections. It has so far given more than 610 million doses of three approved vaccines – Covishield, Covaxin and Sputnik V.

India took 19 days to administer the last 100 million doses, compared to 85 days to give the first 100 million jabs, the government said. But only about 15% of eligible adults have been fully vaccinated since the beginning of the drive in January.

India has reported more than 32 million Covid cases, second only to the US. The country is also only the third in the world to record more than 400,000 deaths, behind the US and Brazil.

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.

However, the situation is under control. 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 57,000 centres, mostly state-run, are offering jabs, but people can also pay for a dose at private facilities.

The government is spending around US$5billionn to provide free doses at state-run clinics, public health centres and hospitals.

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