January 1, 2021, gave Indians reason for cheer. A committee of experts recommended to the country’s drug regulator on Friday that it approve the vaccine developed by University of Oxford and AstraZeneca, and made locally by Serum Institute of India, clearing the main hurdle before the country receives its first coronavirus vaccine. Once approved by the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI), which is expected to heed the committee’s advice, the vaccine will become India’s primary weapon to tackle the coronavirus. In coming months, India will carry out a long and painstaking process to give the country the immunocapital it needs, starting with 300 million identified as those who need it most urgently. A labyrinthine infrastructure has been rapidly readied by building on a decades-old one that at present reaches 27 million newborns a year for life-saving inoculations, but how well it copes with the pressure will only become clear when the first big volumes of vaccines arrive from the factories.
In the 10 months since Covid-19 emerged in India , 10.2 million people have been infected. This is the second-largest number of infections in the world. In terms of deaths, the country has seen the third highest number of fatalities. But these grim statistics hide the fact there are also indicators in which India fares better than many others: It ranks 98 in terms of fatalities per million population, and in infections per capita, the country is not among the top 100. Helped by its younger population, the country’s case-fatality ratio of 1.48% compares well with the global average of 2.2% . In terms of tests in relation to epidemic size, India surpasses the 10-30 tests per confirmed case benchmark set by the World Health Organization as representative of adequate testing.
While in absolute terms, these numbers could still be improved, they reflect an ability to scale-up crucial public health preparations. Over the last few weeks, central officials have drawn up detailed roadmaps for the factory-to-syringe process, while grassroots administrative workers are identifying those who need to be first in line. The country has erected a digital backbone for vaccine administration, and demarcated points for delivery and distribution. Local clinics are being turned into vaccination centres, and frontline health workers are being trained to administer doses and watch for any adverse reactions. Together, these preparations and gains achieved in testing and containment in the past year give reason for hope — hope that India will rise to the challenge of what will be the world’s largest vaccination drive. And at the start of any difficult mission, it is important to believe that we can make it.