India’s far-reaching effort to vaccinate its vast population against Covid-19 hit another milestone on Friday: Its health ministry said that a record 20 million shots had been administered in nine hours, a special push to mark the birthday of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and celebrate his 20 years in public office.
That is more than double its previous daily record — 9.3 million shots, reached on Sept. 2 — and more than six times the level reported three months ago, according to the Our World in Data Project at Oxford University.
Leaders of India’s governing Bharatiya Janata Party said that states under its control had long aimed to maximize a vaccination push as a birthday gift for Mr. Modi, who turned 71 on Friday.
“Good health is indeed wealth and a great way to celebrate PM @NarendraModi ji’s birthday,” India’s federal health minister, Mansukh Mandaviya, wrote on Twitter. Videos of the prime minister were circulated showing him distributing sweets to health workers.
India has administered over 784 million vaccine shots through a drive that had major setbacks in its early stages — although inoculating a population of 1.4 billion people, spread from the Himalayas to the coasts, was always going to be a challenge. The drive has gained considerable momentum in recent weeks.
The country is now recording over 30,000 new Covid-19 cases a day. With a total of more than 33 million total cases during the pandemic, its reported caseload is second only to that of the United States, and India was the third country to top 400,000 deaths. Scientists widely believe that the official figures vastly undercount the toll.
On Friday, the eastern state of Bihar, which is home to an estimated 127 million people and is one of the poorest regions in the country, gave 1.8 million shots, more than any other state, officials said.
In Mumbai, India’s financial capital, civic authorities organized a special vaccination drive for women, and many lined up for shots.
Health ministry officials say they plan to administer over a billion shots by mid-October. China, the only other country with a population of more than a billion people, has already far surpassed that number, reporting 2.16 billion shots, according to Our World in Data.