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India breaks its vaccination record in 'birthday gift' to Modi

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FILE PHOTO: People wait in queues to receive a dose of COVISHIELD vaccine in Kochi

(Corrects day in the first paragraph)

By Krishna N. Das

NEW DELHI (Reuters) -India gave a record 22.6 million vaccinations on Friday, three times the average daily total during the past month, as some states organised special inoculation drives on Prime Minister Narendra Modi's birthday.

The health minister called the vaccine milestone a birthday gift for Modi, who turned 71 and was criticised heavily for India's dramatic rise in infections and deaths in April and May.

"Every Indian would be proud of today’s record vaccination numbers," Modi said on Twitter. "Let us keep boosting vaccination to defeat COVID-19."

India's previous vaccination peak of 14.1 million was reached on Aug. 31, with a daily average of 7 million doses in the last 30 days.

Immunisations have surged in the past few weeks, thanks to a rapid rise in the production of the AstraZeneca shot by the Serum Institute of India (SII), the world's biggest vaccine maker.

SII would supply 200 million doses to India's immunisation programme this month, compared with around 150 million in the previous month, a government source who declined to be named said.

In addition, Bharat Biotech will supply 35 million doses of Covaxin this month, while Cadila Healthcare will join the inoculation drive next month by selling 10 million doses of its COVID-19 DNA vaccine.

The source said vaccinating Indians remained the priority for now though the country would eventually become a major supplier of affordable shots to the world. India, which stopped COVID-19 vaccine exports in April, now has the capacity to produce more than 2 billion doses a year.

The country of 1.35 billon people has administered more than 792 million doses, the most after China.

India has given at least one dose to more than 62% of its 944 million adults and two doses to about 21%, with the aim of administering at least one dose to nearly all adults by the first half of next month.

The country has reported more than 33.38 million coronavirus cases and 444,248 deaths.

(Reporting by Krishna N. Das; additional reporting by Nupur Anand; Editing by Dan Grebler and Philippa Fletcher)

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