NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India plans to widen a coronavirus vaccination campaign soon to include more younger people, the health minister said on Friday, as its new infections rose by the most in more than five months.
The world’s biggest vaccine-making nation has held back large exports of the AstraZeneca shot to meet growing domestic demand. But there is no outright ban, a government source said, and vaccine supply will be staggered.
All above the age of 45 are eligible for vaccination from April 1, the government has said, and it is now working to meet a demand by many states for the inclusion of all adults, after new infections nearly quadrupled this month.
“The government is already planning to widen the umbrella of COVID-19 vaccine beneficiaries in the near future to cover other sections of our population,” Health Minister Harsh Vardhan told a virtual summit organised by the Economic Times newspaper.
India reported 59,118 new infections, health ministry data showed, taking its tally to 11.85 million, for the world’s third-largest, after the United States and Brazil. The death toll rose by 257 to stand at 160,949.
India has injected 55 million doses, the third highest figure after the United States and Brazil, although much lower as a proportion of its population of 1.35 billion, the website Our World in Data showed.
After criticism mounted over its vaccine exports, India is diverting more supplies from vaccine maker the Serum Institute of India to inoculations at home. Its other vaccine maker, Bharat Biotech, is struggling to boost output.
As beds run short in hospitals in the western state of Maharashtra, hit the hardest by the resurgence of infections, authorities said a fire in one of them killed 10 patients, most of them COVID-19 sufferers.
Rescue workers are still trying to douse the fire near Mumbai, the commercial capital.
(Global vaccination tracker: here)
(Interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus: here)
Reporting by Neha Arora; Additional reporting by Shilpa Jamkhandikar; Editing by Krishna N. Das and Clarence Fernandez