The year ahead: The numbers game of boosting the Covid-19 battle

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If 2020 is remembered as the year of the pandemic, the year 2021 went down in history as the year humanity fought back – the year of the vaccines. In the past year, billions of people spread across the world were administered shots of vaccines to protect against Covid-19.

As the year was drawing to a close, however, a new, and heavily mutated and transmissible variant Omicron sent scientists and governments huddling to rework their vaccination strategies.

In India, and across the world, the year ended with the governments revising their vaccination strategy to tackle the new threat. How many vaccine shots will be required for this new round of vaccinations with additional doses, and beyond? What does it mean for India’s target of achieving “full vaccination”? Here’s a look at what the events of the last few weeks mean for this year.

Getting to “full vaccination”

First, a look at what has been achieved on the vaccination front in 2021. A total of 1.44 billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines have been administered across India. These have been done so to more than 843 million of India’s estimated 940 million adults. Around nine out of every 10 adults in India have now received at least one shot of the vaccines – nearly 62% have received two shots of the vaccines, and another 28% have been partially vaccinated.

Now, to establish what the final target is – full vaccination. Depending on what time of the pandemic and where in the world this question is asked, the term “full vaccination” may go on to mean different things. In the first 10-11 months of India’s vaccination drive, the full vaccination target referred to the administration of two doses of the vaccine to everyone over the age of 18.

On December 25 last year, the central government expanded the vaccination drive to cover children of ages 15 and above, and a booster dose (a third after the two original shots) to health care and frontline workers, and people above the age of 60 with certain health conditions – a decision made to counter the Omicron threat.

As per the original calculations of covering 940 million people with two doses, India needed around 1.88 billion doses. But to completely cover the added categories and a further expansion of the programme to cover the entire population, this needs to be redone.

First, the immediate maths. So far, roughly 10.4 million health care workers have been vaccinated, while another 18.4 million frontline workers have been given shots, according to government figures. So, giving these two groups of people a single additional shot adds around 29 million doses to the target. There are an estimated 138 million people above the age of 60 years in the country (as per Census of India’s estimates). While the drive currently has only been expanded to those who have certain medical conditions in this group, there are no estimates on how many such people there are. At some point, however, this entire category is set to be covered.

A tally that has been added to the overall number is the number of children between the ages of 15 and 18 years who were made eligible on December 25 – of which there are 74 million, as per estimates. Two shots for each of this group means another 148 million doses added to the dose target.

According to Our World in Data, 92 countries have so far started administered booster shots. India’s neighbours such as Sri Lanka and China, and economic peers such as Brazil are all in that list.

In the long term, the Indian inoculation drive is likely to cover the entire adult population with a third additional dose like other nations to tackle threats of new variants. If all adults are to be covered in the coming months with the third shot, a total of 940 million doses gets added to the target.

If the entire adult population is administered three doses of Covid-19 vaccines in India, the doses required will be 2.82 billion. With two doses for children above the age of 15 (boosters are not on the horizon for children just yet and the government doesn’t appear to immediately be considering children under the age of 15 for vaccination), the total number of doses needed will stand at 2.97 billion.

Achieving the new goal

Originally, the target set for two-dose coverage of all adults was for December 31, 2021. The seven-day average of daily dose administration, a statistic that evens out the dip generally seen over the weekends, touched a peak of 9.7 million for the week ending September 23 last year after several states increased daily numbers to mark Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s birthday on September 17. At that pace, India was set to hit the year-end target, but since then, it has again dropped. It fell to around 2 million doses a day during the end of October but has again increased slightly to around 5.8 million in the past week.

If the current pace of 5.8 million doses a day continues unchanged (and assuming no vaccine supply issues crop up), then India could hit the 2.97-billion dose target by mid-September, data shows. If the country manages to again soar at the peak recorded rate of 10.9 million doses a day, then it would hit the target by mid-May. If the current pace drops to around 4 million, then this target date moves to early 2023, according to data.

In either case, the year of the pandemic, then of vaccination appear set to be followed by 2022 being the year of booster doses – and, most likely, also the year that begins the endemic phase of Sars-CoV-2.


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