India’s health ministry on Monday reported 4,454 coronavirus-related deaths in the past 24 hours, with the total toll now standing at 303,720 after adding 50,000 deaths in just under two weeks.
Daily coronavirus infections increased by 222,315, bringing the country’s number of cases to 26.75 million, according to data from the Ministry of Health.
The milestone came as slowed vaccine deliveries mar the country’s fight against the pandemic, forcing many people to miss their injections, and a rare ‘black fungus’ infection affecting COVID-19 patients is worrying doctors.
Many experts believe, however, that the actual toll is much higher, especially as the disease spreads in rural areas where the majority of the 1.35 billion people live and where health facilities and record keeping are mediocre.
Elizabeth Puranam of Al Jazeera, reporting from New Delhi, said Indian journalists, doctors and crematoriums all say many deaths go unaccounted for.
“The official death toll only includes people who die in hospitals, but most Indians don’t die in hospitals, they die at home. And only about 22 percent of deaths in the country are medically certified, ”she said.
States stop vaccination due to shortage
Several Indian states have halted the COVID-19 vaccination campaign for people aged 18 to 44 due to a vaccine shortage, regional officials confirmed on Sunday.
The states where vaccinations for this age group have been halted are Chhattisgarh, New Delhi, Karnakata, Maharashtra and Rajasthan – all among the hardest hit by the current second wave of the pandemic.
“The vaccination campaign is not going well at all. There are very serious vaccine shortages and the (federal) government has asked states to make their own arrangements with vaccine manufacturers, both local and foreign, ”Al Jazeera’s Puranam said.
People aged 45 and over are also finding it difficult to get their second dose in several areas, with a number of vaccination centers remaining closed in cities like New Delhi, Mumbai and Pune. Signs posted outside these centers indicated that supplies had run out.
“Delhi is also running out of doses of Covaxin for the 45+ age group, we have supplies for just one more day, we have a week’s supply of Covishield,” said the party’s Atishi. Aam Aadmi in power in Delhi.
The country began immunizing its 1.3 billion people on January 16 with the two vaccines approved by its drug regulator.
These are Covishield, which is the name under which the AstraZeneca vaccine is produced in India by the Serum Institute of India, based in Pune, and Covaxin, made by Bharat Biotech, based in Hyderabad.
The government had planned to vaccinate 300 million people by July, but just over 195 million vaccines have been administered to date. Only 43 million people have received the two required vaccines.
The number of vaccines administered daily fell over the past month, from 3.2 million doses on April 26 to 2.4 million on May 11 and 1.5 million on Saturday, according to government data.
“Vaccination is really the only answer and Indians are already paying a heavy price for the way the government has done in planning, pricing and deployment,” said virologist Dr T Jacob John.
Federal government officials said the vaccine supply problem was temporary and there would be around two billion doses of vaccine available between June and December.
However, experts say the government is unlikely to meet that target, pointing out that four of the vaccines the government was basing its projections on are still in clinical trials.
“We don’t know if these will be allowed and when,” epidemiologist Dr Chandrakant Lahariya said, quoted by The Hindu newspaper.
Lahariya said a realistic estimate of vaccine availability between August and December of this year would be around 1.3 billion doses.