India declared a new coronavirus variant to be of concern as it infected nearly two dozen cases in three of the Indian states, Federal Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan told a news conference on Tuesday (22 Jun).
The variant has been identified locally as “Delta plus”. The Indian Health Ministry said Delta plus has showed increased transmissibility, and advised states to increase testing.
Meanwhile, the vaccination rate in India has been observed to be faltering. Chandrakant Lahariya, an expert in public policy and health systems, told the media, “Many states have consumed most of their current vaccine stocks, which will affect the vaccination in days to follow.”
With the currently projected vaccine supply for the next few months, the maximum daily achievable rate is four to five million doses, Lahariya added. India has about 1.4 billion with 950 million eligible to receive the free vaccine shots.
A devastating second wave during April and May overwhelmed health services, killing hundreds of thousands. Images of funeral pyres blazing in car parks raised questions over the chaotic vaccine rollout. Since May, vaccinations have averaged fewer than three million doses a day, far less than the 10 million health officials say are crucial to protect the millions vulnerable to new surges.
Particularly in the countryside, where two-thirds of the population lives and the healthcare system is often overstretched, the vaccine drive has faltered, experts say.
In New Delhi, more than 8 million residents had yet to receive a first dose and inoculating all adults there would take more than a year at the current pace.
India is currently administering locally made AstraZeneca’s vaccine and a homegrown one named Covaxin made by Bharat Biotech. The Indian government is also expecting to import vaccines from Pfizer this year.
Over the past 24 hours, India reported 42,640 new infections. Total infections now stand at 29.98 million, with a death toll of 389,302, health ministry data showed.