India kicked off world’s largest Covid-19 vaccination drive with thousands of frontline workers and doctors receiving their first vaccine shots on day 1.
The first dose was administered to a health worker at All India Institute of Medical Sciences in Delhi, after Prime Minister Narendra Modi kickstarted the campaign with a nationally-televised speech. “We are launching the world’s biggest vaccination drive and it shows the world our capability,” Modi said.
India has registered more than 10.5m coronavirus cases, the second highest in the world, and 151,000 deaths. The government has been preparing for the vaccine rollout for weeks, and over the past few days, shipments were sent to more than 3,000 sites set up for injections.
The Indian health ministry has drawn up a plan for 300 million people — equivalent to the population of the US — to be vaccinated by August. Frontline healthcare workers, policemen and armymen have been given priority. They will be followed by those over 50 and with co-morbidity conditions, all free of cost. Maharashtra, the worst-hit state during the coronavirus, plans to vaccinate 50,000 healthcare workers on the first day of the vaccine rollout.
Across the country, more than 200,000 vaccinators and 370,000 team members have been trained for the rollout. Large-scale trial runs have been conducted in at least four states and authorities have readied 29,000 cold storage units to transport and hold the vaccine safely.
Two vaccines have been given emergency approval for India’s immunisation programme — the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, known in India as Covishield, and a domestic product, Covaxin, developed by the pharmaceutical company Bharat BiotechBiotech. The approval of Bharat Biotech’s vaccine, which was co-sponsored by an Indian government body, has proved to be controversial. Covaxin is still in its phase 3 of human trials and a full dataset on its efficacy has not been released or peer-reviewed, unlike the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, all of which have been authorised in the UK as well as the US.
Different political parties in opposition have been raising questions about the authenticity and data related to Covaxin. According to a survey of more than 8,000 people carried out by Local Circles, 69% of Indians are hesitant about receiving the vaccine.
Overall, from the outbreak of Covid-19 in India and the announcement of a nationwide lockdown in March to the largest Covid vaccination drive, this whole development can be seen in the light of India emerging as a new world leader.