In an unprecedented achievement, the cumulative COVID-19 vaccine doses administered in the country surpassed the mammoth 100-crore milestone on 21 October 2021. In a tweet, Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulated the countrymen and expressed gratitude to India’s scientific community and health professionals for working towards achieving this stupendous feat. India’s recovery rate currently stands at over 98.15 percent, which is currently at its highest peak since March 2020. The active caseload is only 1.62 lakh cases, the lowest in the last 242 days.
Active cases currently constitute 0.48 percent of the country's total positive cases, which is again the lowest since March 2020. India has so far conducted over 60.32 crore cumulative tests. Accounting for more than 14 percent of the total doses given worldwide at the rate of over 700 jabs per second, India, under Prime Minister Modi, has a lot to cheer about.
The weekly positivity rate at 1.22 percent remains less than 3 percent for over 118 days in a row. The daily positivity rate at 1.20 percent has remained below 3 percent for over 52 days and below 5 percent for over 135 consecutive days in a row. India is only the second country globally after China to reach the 100 crore milestone. But the basic difference between the two nations is accessibility to related data. China claims to have vaccinated over 2.23 billion individuals. It even claimed last month of fully vaccinating over 100 crore people, but there is no open-source data accessible to validate it.
China even asserts that it has produced more than half of the world’s Covid vaccines so far, which is absolutely false and nothing but a frivolous claim by the CPC to reclaim lost ground after reports have emerged that the Wuhan virus was engineered and incubated in a laboratory in China.
On 3 January this year, India gave emergency-use approval to Covishield and Covaxin. Covishield is a two-shot Covid vaccine developed by AstraZeneca-Oxford University. Pune-based Serum Institute of India is its major producer. On the other hand, Covaxin, also a two-shot vaccine, is completely an indigenous achievement. It is developed by Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech, in collaboration with ICMR. Covishield is a viral vector vaccine using adenovirus or common cold virus found in chimpanzees. The vaccine has an efficacy rate of 70 per cent but, when both doses are given 8-12 weeks apart, it can go up to 91 per cent.
Covaxin also uses an inactive viral strain (killed coronaviruses) and has a 77.8 percent efficacy rate. India, under Prime Minister Modi, started its vaccination drive on 16 January 2021, targeting healthcare workers. Other frontline workers were added as intended beneficiaries in February. In April 2021, India approved the third vaccine made by Russia’s Sputnik V and opened the vaccination drive to everyone above 45 years.
On 1 May 2021, India opened its vaccination drive for all adults. On 12 June 2021, the country crossed the mark of administering 25 crore doses, in 148 days from 16 January. From 21 June 2021, the Modi government announced free vaccines for everyone in the 18-44 age group, in a landmark decision.
World’s first DNA-based Covid vaccine by the Indian pharmaceutical company Zydus Cadila was approved on 20 August 2021. It is a three-shot vaccine and the population base above 12 years of age can be inoculated with it. It is expected to hit the markets soon.
On 26 August 2021, the country reached the mark of giving at least one jab to half of its 94 crore adult population. Then, 13 September 2021 saw the country crossing the 75-crore total vaccination mark. On 17 September, the country, for the first time, crossed the ‘two crore doses a day’ mark and became only the second country after China to achieve it. Over 2.15 crore jabs were given that day. On 18 September 2021, India achieved the mark of fully vaccinating 20 crore adult individuals.
The vaccination drive under Prime Minister Modi has been outstanding in more ways than one. For instance, to connect remote areas of the country, the health ministry started drone delivery of Covid vaccines on 4 October 2021, a first in Southeast Asia. The vaccines, through drones, were delivered to a government health centre on a Manipur island in the North East. Currently, remote areas of Manipur and Nagaland and the Union Territory of Andaman and Nicobar Islands are being covered under this ‘supply through drones’ initiative.
In effect, India's vaccine roll-out is not only the largest in the world but also the most affordable, with no compromises whatsoever on any standard operating procedures (SoPs). The PM-Cares fund will shoulder the entire cost of the first phase aimed at inoculating 30 million or 3 crore frontline Covid workers. Earlier, in June 2020, over Rs 2,000 crore was allocated from the PM-Cares fund, for the supply of 50,000 ‘Made-in-India’ ventilators to government-run Covid hospitals in all states and UTs.
Out of the 50,000 ventilators, 30,000 ventilators were manufactured by Bharat Electronics Limited, yet again showcasing India's indigenous manufacturing prowess. While a jaded, directionless and clueless Rahul Gandhi keeps taking needless jibes at the Modi government, the fact of the matter is that, for over six decades, India just had 47,000 ventilators, whereas in one go, in June 2020, the Modi government made available 50,000 ventilators to ensure no life is lost for want of life-saving equipment.
Prime Minister Modi’s food security scheme for the needy, called the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana (PMGKAY), provided free ration to 81 crore people; every single month for nine months in a row, during the pandemic, both last year and this year too. Effectively speaking, this means that a population 2.5 times the size of America was being fed every single month for months together, showcasing the Modi government's generous, welfarist and people-centric approach.
The essence of the Modi government’s management of the pandemic is that the prime minister has been continuously communicating with the people by addressing the nation at regular intervals. He meaningfully coordinated with the chief ministers of the state governments. When Modi asked countrymen to applaud the doctors and paramedical staff for their commitment to handling the COVID-19 crisis by clapping for a few minutes, everyone responded with great enthusiasm.
The same response was seen when he asked everyone to switch off the lights and light candles. Moreover, when Modi wanted people to wear masks and observe social distancing, there was no protest from the people, like in the US. It is quite true that some people did not follow guidelines but that was more due to indiscipline by a few, rather than any broad opposition to the guidelines. In most democracies, often people do not hesitate to conduct protest marches even for trivial reasons. It is extraordinary, therefore, that Prime Minister Modi could manage the pandemic without giving room for unrest and turmoil.
India is a vast country of 1.38 billion people that share a 3,488-km-long border with China. Its response to COVID-19 is a textbook case of how great leaders take the bull by its horns. Modi took the lead in hosting a video conference of SAARC nations, where India pledged to share disease surveillance software, work towards a common research platform and provide all help required, including assistance from the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) to its SAARC partners.
India also took the lead in setting up a COVID-19 emergency fund, with a voluntary contribution of $10 million. Taking a cue from Prime Minister Modi's initiative, the G-7 group decided to host its summit via video conference in June 2020. Virtual meetings thereafter became the norm.
Now, contrast the policy of obfuscation and apathy followed by China, with the probity and transparency shown by India, in taking Covid head-on. Be it building over 116 million toilets under the “Clean India” or “Swachh Bharat” mission, making India’s 5.5 lakh villages open defecation free (ODF), giving free health insurance to 50 crore Indians under the “Ayushman Bharat” scheme, producing over 60 million PPE kits and 150 million N95 masks in between April and October 2020, bringing home over 3.9 million stranded Indians from different parts of the globe via the “Vande Bharat Mission”, or extending medical and humanitarian assistance to over 150 countries in the fight against the pandemic, the Modi government’s fight against the Wuhan virus was made easier by the fact that a humongous amount of effort went into ramping up India's health infrastructure and making cleanliness a way of life in the last seven years.
What is worth mentioning here is that during the initial days of Covid outbreak, there was only one lab in the country that could undertake the testing for the infection, but today there are over 2,000 testing laboratories.
A key concern is vaccine wastage. What is vaccine wastage? While wastage cannot be fully eradicated, it has to be within recommended limits. In general, high vaccine wastage inflates vaccine demand and increases unnecessary vaccine procurement and supply chain costs. Vaccine wastage is directly linked to vaccine usage, which is the proportion of vaccines administered against vaccines issued to a vaccination site. What is causing the wastage? For instance, each Covishield vial has 10 doses in total, while a Covaxin vial contains 20 doses — each dose being 0.5 ml (for one person). Once opened, all doses have to be administered within four hours; otherwise, it goes to waste and the remaining doses have to be destroyed.
The vaccine wastage in India can largely be attributed to the low turnout to get vaccinated. For instance, if the vial contains doses for 10 people and only six turn up, four doses would go to waste. In a few Opposition-ruled states, opening vials despite the inability to mobilise a critical mass of people led to huge vaccine wastage in the initial phases, particularly in states like Rajasthan, Jharkhand and Punjab, with wastage rates being as high as 18 percent and 12 percent in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh respectively during the second wave. Despite the Opposition-ruled states completely abdicating their responsibility, the sheer willpower to deliver, by the Modi government, eventually resulted in the 100 crore milestone on 21 October 2021.
The Modi government's CoWIN (Covid Vaccine Intelligence Network) app is owned by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and was earlier the platform used for conducting pulse polio and other crucial and highly successful immunisation programmes across the country. The same platform was expanded for doling out COVID-19 vaccines; the Ministry of Electronics and IT along with the National Informatics Centre are now handling the backend and the tech infrastructure for it. CoWIN is again an example of how the Modi government has seamlessly embraced technology to ensure last-mile delivery.
In the final analysis, it can be said with no “ifs” and “buts” whatsoever that the Indian response to the pandemic has been awe-inspiring at various levels. While the US and Europe are dealing with endless queues of people lining up at malls and stores that have run out of toilet paper and hand sanitisers, India’s calibrated approach by the government, without causing panic, has had a salubrious impact.
“It has been a truly Bhagirath effort involving multiple sections of society. To get a sense of the scale, assume that each vaccination took just two minutes for a healthcare worker. At this rate, it took around 41 lakh man-days or approximately 11,000 man-years of effort to reach this landmark,” said Prime Minister Modi after India breached the 100 crore mark. Undoubtedly, India's outstanding and successful war against Covid-19 will go down in history as a textbook case of what a sensitive and nimble-footed leadership can accomplish.
The writer is an economist, national spokesperson of the BJP and author of ‘Truth and Dare: The Modi Dynamic’. Views expressed are personal.