In a landmark achievement, India’s cumulative Covid-19 vaccination coverage crossed 1 billon doses on Thursday.
The new figure marks a milestone for the South Asian country where the Delta variant fuelled a devastating wave of the virus earlier this year.
“India scripts history. We are witnessing the triumph of Indian science, enterprise and collective spirit of 130 crore Indians. Congrats India on crossing 100 crore vaccinations. Gratitude to our doctors, nurses and all those who worked to achieve this feat. #VaccineCentury,” Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted on Thursday.
World Health Organization (WHO) chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus also congratulated the Indian government after it achieved the landmark of administering 1 billion doses of the vaccine.
"Congratulations, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the scientists, health workers and people of India, on your efforts to protect the vulnerable populations from Covid-19 and achieve #VaccinEquity targets," Ghebreyesus wrote on the microblogging site.
Another top WHO official joined their chief. In a statement shared on Twitter, the global health body's Southeast Asia Regional Director Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh said, "Huge congratulations to India for marking yet another milestone, a billion Covid-19 vaccine doses administered."
On Thursday, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) lightened up 100 of its heritage monuments in the colours of the national flag to mark this incredible feat. India also celebrated the landmark with a song, promotional film and announcements on airplanes, ships and railway stations.
This would translate to a larger potential to share vaccines with the world, contributing towards realisation of their Prime Minister’s vision of “One Earth, One Health”.
India has achieved the mark of 1 billion vaccine doses in less than 40 weeks. This milestone exemplifies India’s prowess in various elements in the vaccination journey – development of new vaccines, production of vaccines, deployment and technology, said the HCI.
India’s Covid-19 vaccination drive was launched on January 16 last. But preparations had begun way back in April 2020 with the establishment of the National Task Force for Focused Research on Corona Vaccine. Indeed, a hallmark of India’s vaccination drive has been the high level oversight and coordination, particularly by the Prime Minister himself.
India prioritised vaccine development and launched ‘Mission Covid Suraksha’ to provide financial and technical support for indigenous vaccine manufacturers.
This mission is the force behind the world's first DNA-based Covid-19 vaccine Zycov-D, developed by Zydus Cadila, which will facilitate vaccination of children above 12 years.
The mission also supported the capacity development of Bharat Biotech and provided support for infrastructure and technology development for other public sector manufacturers. Today, India is the only country that has developed multiple vaccines across multiple platforms (Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin uses an inactivated virus platform, Zycov-D is a DNA vaccine, Covishield is a viral vector vaccine, Gennova is in the running for being India’s first mRNA vaccine).
For vaccine deployment and delivery, a comprehensive system of planning and implementation was put in place. Besides the National Task Force for Focused Research on Corona Vaccine, several expert advisory groups were set up at the highest level, including the National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for Covid-19 (NEGVAC) in August 2020, the Empowered Group on Vaccine Administration for Covid-19 (EGVAC) in January 2021, and the National Technical Advisory Group for Immunization (NTAGI) Working Group.
India’s vaccination rollout was backed by recommendations of these expert groups.
The National Covid Vaccination Programme initially targeted the healthcare and frontline workers as well as senior citizens, due to their higher risk perception. Subsequently, the programme was rolled out to include people above 45 years of age and with co-morbidities and later, all citizens above 45 years were included. In the ongoing phase, all adults above 18 years have been included and vaccination is being provided for free at public vaccination facilities. This implies about 940 million people have to be vaccinated with two doses each.
On the approval of Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI), three vaccines have been utilised in the programme -- Covishield developed by Serum Institute of India in collaboration with AstraZeneca of the United Kingdom, Covaxin of Bharat Biotech International Limited and Sputnik V of Russia.
Nearly all of the 1 billion doses administered have been made in India, except for a miniscule proportion of Sputnik V (approximately 0.4 million doses). Besides, over 95 percent of those vaccine doses have been delivered by India’s public health system, a testimony to its reach and robustness. Nevertheless, private healthcare outlets have also been included in the implementation of the vaccination drive.
A critical contribution to India’s successful vaccination journey has been an experience with the Universal Immunisation Programme (UIP). The cold chain system of UIP was leveraged and upscaled. Vaccines were stored at about 29,000 cold storage points and delivered across the country in more than 700 temperature controlled vehicles.
The cold chain supply lines are being managed using Electronic Vaccine Intelligence Network (eVIN), an indigenously developed technology that digitises vaccine stocks and monitors the temperature of the cold chain through a smartphone application.
India also developed a unique digital platform of CoWIN. The digital platform has made it possible to register beneficiaries, schedule their vaccination, generate QR code-based vaccine certificates and capture their vaccination history. In addition, it has kept track of the entire implementation process, including daily coverage and vaccine requirement, across various Indian states.
The sheer expanse of the vaccination drive can be gauged from the fact that there are 313,000 Covid vaccination centres across the country, of which 74 percent are at rural locations and account for 65 percent of the total coverage till now. Vaccination teams of 740,000 persons, including more than 264,000 vaccinators, were trained for the task.
The 1 billion landmark also celebrates the indomitable spirit of India’s frontline health workers -- nurses, the auxiliary nurse midwives and thousands of vaccinators, who overcame challenges of terrain and weather to reach the remotest areas ensuring that no one is left behind. Vaccine delivery by drones has also been recently piloted in the northeast region of the country.
Special focus has been given on outreach to pregnant and lactating women, the destitute, vagabonds and other vulnerable groups. In addition, the programme now includes Workplace Covid Vaccination Centres, Near to Home Vaccination and Mobile Vaccination Units for easier accessibility. Prioritised vaccination of schoolteachers was also undertaken to ensure safe education for children.