Vaccination Numbers: Dancing with Joy or Weeping at Tiny Percentages?

25 Jun,2021


By Ranjona Banerji


Ranjona BanerjiIndia’s vaccination story remains fascinating. Depending on where you get your news from, you could be dancing for joy at massive numbers or weeping at tiny percentages. And judging from the manner in which the Modi Government controls the news, our slightly cowardly newspapers and news outlets temper dismal percentages with grandiloquent nonsense about how great the Central Vista will be for India’s future or at least some construction company’s present.


A good way of confusing you with numbers is when you write out a billion in numerals. For instance, over 3.7 billion vaccines have been administered by June 25, as this Hindustan Times story tells us:


It’s also interesting how when it comes to vaccine numbers, we sometimes discuss them in millions and billions and sometimes in lakhs and crores. Business journalism has largely switched to millions and billions for global parity but the rest of us waver between the two. Sometimes, 3 billion sounds more than 30 crore and so on and sometimes 60 lakh sounds more than 6 million.


Apart from this niggling confusion, we’re still stuck with percentages versus figures. And even here, we’re confused. How many Indians are over-18 and thus of vaccinable age? Some counters use 94 crore, as in 940 million of our total population of 1.3 billion. Others put the figure at considerably less: two economists with the State Bank of India write in the Times of India that they have used Aadhar data to assume that India’s adult population is 86.3 crore. That’s a few lakhs and millions less.


But these figures mean nothing. The vaccines currently in use in India need two doses to be effective. Which means at our going rate, according to Our World in Data on June 23, India had vaccinated just over 17 percent of its population with one done. Both doses? Under 4 percent. Therefore, any boasting that we are number 3 in the world in vaccine doses (the same edit page article in The Times of India by SBI economists) is not just government propaganda, it also makes it clear how economists think and why India is in the economic mess it is. Am I being mean?


Every article that gives you vaccination data without these percentages is in effect blinding you with numbers. The numbers sound impressive. But they do not tell you the whole story. For instance, Canada has administered 33.59 million vaccines. Haha, you may laugh as you puff up your patriotic chest. The slight problem with that hot air in your lungs is that 33.59 million covers 67 percent of Canada’s population. And that is the goal for every nation on the planet when it comes to tackling Covid19.


At this point, an apology regarding the Mint article which I mentioned in Tuesday’s column. I wrote that it was “full of almost uncontainable excitement” that India had recorded 8 million doses in one day – June 21, when Modi grandiosely relaunched his “free vaccines for over-18s” publicity campaign. I apologise because it was the headline that was full of uncontainable excitement, the article itself was more balanced. I should have been more specific.


Basically, we’re back to this for any worthwhile Covid19 coverage: the Delta variant spreads fast. It is growing in numbers in various parts of the world, including India. Vaccination is the main way to curtail the virus’s strengths. India does not have enough vaccines yet. Promises mean zilch when it comes to medicine. Any news outlet which does not present this picture to you is lying!


Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator, She writes on MxMIndia every Tuesday and Friday. Her views here are personal

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