India asks states to speed up COVID-19 vaccination

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FILE PHOTO: A woman walks past a painting of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi a day before the inauguration of the COVID-19 vaccination drive on a street in Mumbai

MUMBAI (Reuters) - India's government urged states and union territories on Saturday to accelerate COVID-19 vaccinations after a review found "substantial" room for speeding up the programme.

India started what it says in the world's biggest vaccination programme on Jan. 16, aiming to reach 300 million people by July-August.

Twelve states and union territories have vaccinated 60% of their healthcare workers so far but many need to improve their performance, the government said after a review by the federal health secretary.

It said in a statement there remains "substantial scope for improvement in the number of average vaccinations per vaccination session."

India vaccinated about 3 million healthcare workers in the first two weeks of the campaign - an average of just over 200,000 a day - but will have to accelerate to meet its summer coverage target.

The government asked states to schedule all healthcare workers for vaccination at least once by Feb. 20 and all frontline workers by March 6.

India, the world's most populous country after China, is relying on the CoWIN app to link beneficiaries with vaccines despite initial glitches in the software which slowed the vaccination programme.

India has officially reported more than 10.8 million infections, the world's highest after the United States, though its daily cases have come down sharply since a mid-September peak of nearly 100,000. The death toll is almost 155,000.

(Reporting by Abhirup Roy, Editing by Timothy Heritage)