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India opens vaccinations to all adults amid growing COVID-19 crisis

India opens vaccinations to all adults amid growing COVID-19 crisis
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India opened coronavirus vaccinations to all adults on Saturday as the country seeks to curb the spread of COVID-19 amid a record rise in cases.

The country has seen a surge in virus infections in recent weeks, and the government hopes to get a large vaccination effort underway to deal with the burgeoning crisis.

The push comes as the number of new daily cases topped 400,000 for the first time on Saturday after 10 consecutive days of new daily cases topping 300,000, Reuters reported.

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A shortage in supplies and delayed vaccine rollout across the country have marked India's inoculation push so far.

The country, which has a population of nearly 1.4 billion people, has struggled to make vaccines accessible and affordable.

Experts say that state governments will be tasked with paying for the shots for nearly 600 million adults in India who are younger than 45 and that the federal government will provide another 300 million health care workers and people older than 45 with their shots, The Associated Press reported.

Currently, government shots have been provided to people free of charge, with private hospitals charging around $3, or 250 rupees, but that could change as prices are determined by vaccine companies, the AP reported.

Health policy expert Chandrakant Lahariya told the outlet that states pay less for vaccines in a competitive market where vaccine companies can profit more by selling to the private sector, often resulting in that cost being passed on to vaccine recipients and increasing inequity.

“There is no logic that two different governments should be paying two prices,” he said.

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India's vaccination efforts could also have global ramifications, as the nation has pledged to share its vaccine supply with the United Nations.

“The urgent demand for vaccines in India is bad for the rest of the world,” Ravi Gupta, a professor of clinical microbiology at Cambridge University, told AP.

The United States announced Friday that it was deploying a top career diplomat to the country as it seeks to help India deal with the health crisis while also banning most travel from India starting Tuesday.

The Biden administration has started aid flights to India to deliver assistance in the form of oxygen cylinders, N95 masks, rapid tests, experts and other supplies.

Some experts have noted that while India fights spiking coronavirus cases, a massive inoculation effort could inadvertently lead to more infections. The country has already seen more than 19.1 million infections.

“There’s ample evidence that having people wait in a long, crowded, disorderly queue could itself be a source of infection,” Bharat Pankhania, a senior clinical lecturer specializing in infectious diseases at Britain’s University of Exeter, told the AP.

He also urged India to first impose “a long, sustained, strictly enforced lockdown” to stop the spread before distributing the vaccine, noting that the vaccine alone will not help limit the number of infections in the country. Pankhania said the vaccine will help stop future waves of the virus and criticized Western nations for vaccinating the entire country before sharing with others.

“It is better globally to immunize all the [vulnerable] people that need to be protected rather than to immunize entire populations in only some countries,” Pankhania said.