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India begins world’s biggest Covid-19 vaccination drive

India begins world’s biggest Covid-19 vaccination drive

dpa
New Delhi
India on Saturday started inoculating health workers in what is expected to be the world’s biggest coronavirus vaccination programme.
A sanitation worker at a government hospital in Delhi became the first person to receive a shot in the country of 1.3 billion people, shortly after Prime Minister Narendra Modi kicked off the year-long campaign with a nationally televised speech.
India plans to vaccinate 300 million people - nearly the size of the entire population of the United States - by the end of July.
“India is today launching the world’s biggest vaccination programme.
Never before has this type of vaccination and such a large-scale vaccination campaign been run in history ... It shows the world our capability,” Modi said in his address.
“These vaccines will help us decisively defeat Covid-19,” Modi said, paying tribute to India’s front-line workers and scientists.
An estimated 30 million doctors, nurses and other front-line workers will be the first to get the vaccination, followed by 270 million people aged over 50 or deemed high-risk.
India’s drug regulator has given emergency authorization to two vaccines: Covishield, developed by Britain’s Oxford University and pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca, and Covaxin, from Indian company Bharat Biotech.
At over 10.5 million infections, India has recorded the second-highest number of Covid-19 infections in the world, after the US. India’s coronavirus death toll stands at 151,918.
Some 300,000 health workers were to receive the shots on the first day of the vaccination drive, which federal Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said was “probably the beginning of the end” of Covid-19.
The vaccination drive began at 3,006 sites; mostly state-run health care centres as well as government schools and municipal offices being converted to temporary vaccination centres, with each site inoculating 100 people, government officials said. This number will be ramped up to over 5,000 sites as the programme progresses.
“There is relief as well as excitement. We are very lucky to get the vaccine, being part of the first line of defence against the virus,” Anubhav Sharma, a doctor at Delhi’s Lok Nayak Hospital, who received the jab, told broadcaster NDTV.
“The past few months have been full of worry. We will be more confident in dealing with patients and provide even better care now.” Modi urged Indians not to believe “propaganda and rumours” about the safety of vaccines amid controversy over the locally produced Covaxin, which has been cleared for emergency use while still in clinical trials.
“The Drug Controller gave approval after they were satisfied with the data of the two vaccines. So stay away from rumours,” he said.
“Our vaccine developers have a global credibility. Life-saving vaccines given to 60 per cent of children globally are made in India,” Modi added.
However, worries over the domestically developed vaccine persist, which could hamper the vaccination campaign.
Doctors at Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital, one of Delhi’s biggest healthcare hubs, demanded they be administered the Covishield vaccine and not Covaxin.
In a letter to the hospital chief, the doctors said they were a “bit apprehensive about the lack of complete trial” for the indigenous vaccine, adding they were not given an option to choose between the vaccines.
In the Rewari district in northern Haryana state, front-line workers reportedly refused to get the jab, fearing adverse effects, but agreed after health officials intervened to allay their concerns.
The Covid-19 pandemic has upended lives, battered an already slowing economy and resulted in unprecedented suffering in India, which saw some of the strictest lockdowns in the world.

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