India has launched a massive vaccination drive with the aim of inoculating all adults against COVID-19. As a result, the government has opened vaccinations to all adults from today, 1st May.
During the drive, Indian states have been;charged with the responsibility of immunizing the 600 million adults younger than 45. The federal government also aims to give jabs to 300 million healthcare;and front-line workers as well as people older than 45.
The vaccination drive comes amid India’s battle with a deadly second wave;of the coronavirus, that has overwhelmed the country’s health system.
According to officials, as of 30th April, less than 2% of the country’s population had;been;fully immunized against COVID-19 and around 10% had received a single dose.
Experts noted that the country’s wide economic disparities made access to the vaccine inconsistent. In the past, government vaccines have been free but limited to specific groups of people. Private hospitals were also permitted to sell shots at a price capped at 250 rupees, or around $3.
Only a fraction of India’s population will be able to afford the prices charged;by;private hospitals for the shot, according to experts.
Some health officials have, however, warned;that that conducting a massive vaccination drive now could worsen the surge in a country.
“There’s ample evidence that having people wait in a long, crowded, disorderly queue could itself be a source of infection,” said Dr. Bharat Pankhania, a senior clinical lecturer specializing in infectious diseases at Britain’s University of Exeter.
He urged India to first stop the circulation of the virus by imposing “a long, sustained, strictly enforced lockdown.”
Government ignored warnings on variant
Scientists from the Indian Sars-CoV-2 genetics consortium (Insacog) have revealed that they warned officials in early March of a new and more contagious variant of the coronavirus taking hold in the country.
Despite the warning, the scientists said the federal government did not seek to impose major restrictions to stop the spread of the virus.
The scientists pointed to millions of largely unmasked people,;who attended religious festivals and political rallies that were held;by Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, leaders of the ruling Bharatiya Janata party and opposition politicians.
They also cited the tens of thousands of farmers camped on the edge of New Delhi protesting agricultural policy changes.
Addressing the issue, Ajay Parida, director of the state-run Institute of Life Sciences and a member of Insacog, noted that researchers first detected B.1.617, which is now known as the Indian variant, as early as February.
Insacog shared its findings with the health ministry’s National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) before 10th March, warning that infections could quickly increase in parts of the country.
However, Shahid Jameel, Insacog’s Chair, said he was concerned that authorities were not paying enough attention to the evidence as they set policy.
“Policy has to be based on evidence and not the other way around. I am worried that science was not taken into account to drive policy. But I know where my jurisdiction stops. As scientists we provide the evidence, policymaking is the job of the government.”
The Indian variant has now reached at least 17 countries including Britain, Switzerland and Iran, leading several governments to close their borders to people travelling from India.
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