As India recorded a single-day high in new coronavirus cases on Thursday, its vaccination campaign has been marred by shortages and states are competing against one another to get doses, limiting the government’s hope that the country can soon emerge from a devastating outbreak.
The Indian health ministry recorded about 410,000 cases in 24 hours, a new global high, and 3,980 deaths, the highest daily death toll in any country outside the United States. Experts believe the number of actual infections and deaths is much higher.
A second wave of infections exploded last month, and some Indian states reintroduced partial lockdowns, but daily vaccination numbers have fallen. The government said it had administered nearly two million vaccine doses on Thursday, far lower than the 3.5 million doses a day it reached in March. Over the past week, 1.6 million people on average were vaccinated daily in the country of 1.4 billion.
India’s pace of vaccinations has become a source of global concern as its outbreak devastates the nation and spreads into neighboring countries, and as a variant first identified there begins to be found around the world. The outbreak has prompted India to keep vaccine doses produced by its large drug manufacturing industry at home instead of exporting them, slowing down vaccination campaigns elsewhere.
In an effort to make doses more widely available within India, the authorities have allowed states and private health care providers to buy vaccines directly from manufacturers. But that has left state governments competing with one another for doses, and experts say it has added more troubles to a sluggish rollout. The authorities in Delhi, the capital, and several states have said they had to delay the expansion of vaccine access to younger age groups because of shortages.
India also lacks enough doses to meet the growing demand. Two domestic drug companies — the Serum Institute of India, which is manufacturing the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca, and Bharat Biotech, which is making its own vaccine — are producing fewer than 100 million doses per month.
About 3 percent of India’s population has been fully vaccinated, and 9.2 percent of people have received at least one dose. Experts say that at the current rate the country is unlikely to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s target of inoculating 300 million people by August.
India has recorded 20.6 million coronavirus cases and more than 226,000 deaths, according to a New York Times database.
India’s government has said it will fast-track approvals of foreign-made vaccines, and on Wednesday the Biden administration said it would support waiving intellectual property protections for Covid-19 vaccines to increase supplies for lower-income countries.
But a waiver would need to win unanimous support at the World Trade Organization — and even then, experts say, India’s drug companies would need extensive technological and other support to produced doses.
“The drop in I.P. protections is only one element,” Anant Bhan, a health researcher at Melaka Manipal Medical College in southern India, said of intellectual property. Because of the additional steps required to begin making a vaccine on a huge scale, he said, “it is not going to mean increased access to vaccines in the near future.”
As Mr. Modi has declined to impose a nationwide lockdown like the one he brought in last year, states have adopted their own measures. On Thursday, the southern state of Kerala, which has one of the highest caseloads, announced a near-total lockdown until May 16.
Experts also worry that a crisis may be unfolding in India’s rural areas, where testing capacities are even more limited.
“My main concern is nonavailability of testing and the logistics of not getting people tested in rural areas,” said Gautam Menon, a professor of physics and biology at Ashoka University in northern India. “So we will never get the real numbers for either infection rates or deaths from many such quarters of India.”
The U.S. State Department has approved the departure of family members of U.S. government employees in India and is urging American citizens to take advantage of commercial flights out of the country. It said on Wednesday that it would approve the voluntary departure of nonemergency U.S. government employees.
On Thursday, Sri Lanka became the latest country to bar travelers from India, joining the United States, Britain, Australia and others.