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The urban Indian population are getting Covid-19 shots much faster than the hundreds of millions of people living in the countryside, government data shows, reflecting rising inequity in the nation’s immunisation drive.

In 114 of India’s least developed districts – collectively home to about 176 million people – authorities have administered just 23 million doses in total.

That’s the same number of doses as have been administered across nine major cities – New Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Pune, Thane and Nagpur – which combined have half the population of the least developed districts.

Reuters notes that the disparity was even stronger last month, after the government allowed private sales of vaccines for adults aged under 45 years, an offer which favoured residents of cities with larger private hospital networks. For the first four weeks of May, those nine cities gave 16% more doses than the combined rural districts, data from the government’s Co-WIN vaccination portal shows.

“My friends from the city were vaccinated at private hospitals,” said Atul Pawar, a 38-year-old farmer from Satara, a rural western district of Maharashtra, India’s wealthiest state. “I am ready to pay, but doses are not available and district borders are sealed because of the lockdown.”

The ministry of health and family welfare said in a statement at the weekend that reports of vaccine inequity in India were “inaccurate and speculative in nature”.

“Liberalised pricing and accelerated national Covid-19 vaccination strategy ensures vaccine equity,” it said, adding that smaller cities were also getting doses like the big ones.

India has administered more than 222m doses since starting its campaign in mid-January – only China and the US have administered more – but it has given the required two doses to less than 5% of its 950 million adults.

Rural India is home to more than two-thirds of the country’s 1.35 billion people. While urban areas account for a disproportionately large share of the confirmed Covid-19 cases, those concerned about the spread of the virus in the countryside say statistics undercount cases in villages, where testing is less comprehensive.



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