A woman reacts as a health worker inoculates her during a vaccination drive against coronavirus inside a school in New Delhi.
A woman reacts as a health worker inoculates her during a vaccination drive against coronavirus inside a school in New Delhi. Image Credit: AP

New Delhi: India administered its billionth COVID-19 vaccine dose on Thursday, according to the health ministry, half a year after a devastating surge in cases brought the health system close to collapse.

According to the government, around three-quarters of adults in the country of 1.3 billion people have had one shot and around 30 per cent are fully vaccinated.

India suffered a huge spike in cases in April and May, reporting more than 400,000 infections and 4,000 deaths per day, with many hospitals unable to cope and crematoriums overwhelmed.

Cases have since fallen sharply, with fewer than 15,000 infections per day, and most activity has returned to normal.

Only China has administered more doses - the Chinese government says it has given more than 2.3 billion shots.

The Indian government was reportedly set to celebrate the milestone with Prime Minister Narendra Modi thanking health workers, special announcements at railway stations and airports and monuments being lit up in the national colours.

Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya was due to launch a special song by singer Kailash Kher and an audio-visual film at the historic Red Fort in New Delhi.

Mandaviya tweeted: "Congratulations India! This is the result of the visionary PM Modi's able leadership.".

Nearly 90% of the vaccines administered in India have come from the Serum Institute of India (SII), which produces a licensed version of the AstraZeneca drug. SII has more than tripled its capacity since April and can now produce 220 million vaccine doses a month.

SII has also slowly resumed exports for the first time since April, when the government stopped all overseas sales to meet domestic demand as infections rose dramatically.

The World Health Organization (WHO), which relies heavily on India for supplies to its global vaccine-sharing platform COVAX, congratulated the country for reaching the landmark.

"India's progress must be viewed in the context of the country's commendable commitment and efforts to ensure that these life-saving vaccines are accessible globally," said Poonam Khetrapal Singh, regional director WHO South-East Asia.

India has so far reported 34.1 million COVID-19 cases and more than 452,000 deaths, most during a second wave of infections of the Delta variant that surged through the country between April and May.

A "sizeable number " of people in India have not taken their second dose by the due date despite adequate supplies, the health ministry said on Tuesday, as new infections fell to their lowest since early March.

Daily shots have averaged 5 million this month, a fifth of September's peak, though states are sitting on record stocks of more than 100 million as domestic output of the AstraZeneca vaccine soars.

Despite the current low number of infections, ministry officials have been urging people to get vaccinated fast, especially as the ongoing festival season means family gatherings and mass shopping, raising the risk of a new wave of infections.