Shielded and vaccinated: India begins mammoth immunisation drive
Doctors, paramedics and hospital workers — who for most part of 2020 were on the frontlines of the battle against the rampaging coronavirus, often ceaselessly even when they saw their colleagues fall — became the first to receive Sars-Cov-2 vaccines as India kicked off a colossal immunisation campaign on Saturday.
Between 10.30am, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi kicked off the exercise with an address to the nation, and late evening, roughly 191,181 people received doses at 3,351 vaccination sites, preliminary data by the Union health ministry showed.
According to data compiled from states by HT, 200,297 people were vaccinated. The number was shy of the 300,000 that was being estimated but still far higher than what was recorded by any country on its first day.
“We are launching the world’s biggest vaccination drive and it shows the world our capability,” Modi said in his address, imploring citizens to keep their guard up and not believe any “rumors about the safety of the vaccines.”
Modi also described India’s vaccine allotment formula as humanitarian and recounted the time when the outbreak was peaking in India. “As much as we think about those days, we become sad. But in those days of crisis there were people who put their lives in danger to save us: our doctors, nurses, paramedic, ambulance drivers, police, ASHA, and other frontline workers. They gave priority to their duties. Many of them stayed away from their families didn’t go home. There are many friends who will never return home. They sacrificed their lives to save us,” Modi said, before adding that these have been prioritised.
Among those who got doses on Saturday, there were no serious side effects requiring hospitalisation, Union health ministry said. In all, there were 16,755 personnel involved in the immunisations on Saturday.
Authorities hope to give shots to 300 million people, roughly the population of the US, by the end of summer.
The recipients include 30 million doctors, nurses and other frontline workers such as police and firefighters, who will be followed by 270 million others, who are either aged over 50 or have illnesses that make them vulnerable to Covid-19.
The drive began simultaneously across dedicated vaccination centres set up across the country, where doses of Covishield – the manufactured-in-India version of UK’s Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine – and indigenously developed Covaxin were administered to people. In Delhi, the first person to receive a dose was All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) cleaning staff Manish Kumar. “I wanted to serve as an example to my family and colleagues,” said Kumar, minutes after he received Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin shot, flanked by Union health minister Harsh Vardhan and AIIMS director Randeep Guleria.
Staff who were vaccinating people used a mobile phone app called Co-WIN where they fed in preset lists of people and updated their vaccination status – records that will be crucial since these people will require their second doses in four week’s time.
Staff in several states reported glitches in using the tool, but the health ministry said these were addressed soon. “Since this was the first day of the vaccination drive and it was our first real-time experience, there were observed some minor glitches that were resolved immediately,” said Manohar Agnani, additional secretary, health ministry, who is also the nodal officer at the ministry for vaccine delivery.
Ironing out issues identified on Saturday will be crucial before vaccinations resume next week. Till Saturday, almost 17 million doses of vaccines have been delivered to states and experts believe the clock is ticking as the world faces threats of new variants of the coronavirus that could make the pandemic harder to control, like B.1.1.7 first identified in UK, and mutation spreading in Brazil that is feared to make existing immunity in those who have recovered from the disease and even those who have gotten doses less effective.
In wealthy countries including the United States, Britain, Israel, Canada and Germany, millions of citizens have already been given some measure of protection with at least one dose of vaccine developed with revolutionary speed and quickly authorised for use.
India is second to the US with 10.5 million confirmed cases, and ranks third in the number of deaths, behind the US and Brazil, with 152,000. Over 35 million doses of various Covid-19 vaccines have been administered around the world, according to the University of Oxford’s Our World In Data’s vaccination tracker.
Experts said the exercise will need India to build on its massive immunisation infrastructure. “To be able to effectively reach the target population for vaccinating people of this scale, India needed to utilize its existing national immunization network, including the infrastructure (production, storage, transport, delivery facilities) as well as the human resources (vaccinators, supervisors, etc),” said Anant Bhan, researcher, global health, health policy and bioethics.
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