india vaccine covishield
In this Monday, March 1, 2021, file photo, a health worker displays a COVISHIELD vaccine before administering it to an elderly person in Gauhati, India. Image Credit: AP

New Delhi: India reported 72,330 new COVID-19 infections overnight, data from the health ministry showed on Thursday, the highest since Oct. 11.

India’s overall caseload stood at 12.22 million, making it the third-most affected globally, behind the United States and Brazil.

The country reported 459 deaths, taking the total to 162,927, the data showed.

India opened up its coronavirus inoculation programme to people above 45 on Thursday as infections surge, which will delay vaccine exports from the world’s biggest maker of the drug.

The country, with the most number of reported COVID-19 cases after the United States and Brazil, has so far injected 64 million doses and exported nearly as many. This has raised criticism at home as India’s per-capita vaccination figure is much lower than many countries.

The government has previously said that people over 45 can register for inoculation from April 1.

India initially focused on front-like workers, the elderly and those suffering from other health conditions, unlike some richer countries that have made all their adults eligible to get inoculated.

New Delhi says it is working towards that goal, and Health Minister Harsh Vardhan tweeted that there would be no vaccine shortage in the country as it opens up the vaccination programme.

“Centre to continually replenish states’ supplies,” he said on Twitter. “Avoid overstocking and under stocking.” India has already decided to delay big vaccine exports for now, including to the WHO-backed global vaccine alliance COVAX.

It is currently using the AstraZeneca vaccine and a shot developed at home by Bharat Biotech, which is struggling to step up supplies. India’s drug regulator is soon expected to approve Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine.