NEW DELHI: Hospitals were decked out with flowers and one politician planted a tree as India began Saturday its colossal coronavirus vaccine drive, desperately hoping to end a pandemic that has killed 150,000 of its people, reports AFP.
India aims to vaccinate around 300 million of its 1.3 billion people by July—a number equal to almost the entire US population—with frontline workers, people over 50 and those deemed high risk first in line.On day one around 300,000 people were due to be vaccinated with Covishield, developed by AstraZeneca and made by India’s Serum Institute, or the homegrown Covaxin.
Covaxin is still in clinical trials and recipients on Saturday had to sign a consent form that stated that the “clinical efficacy... is yet to be established”.
But Prime Minister Narendra Modi as he launched the vaccination programme urged people to reject “propaganda and rumours” about the indigenous vaccine.
“The world has immense faith in India’s scientists and capacity of vaccine production,” Modi, 70, said in a video message.
‘Ray of hope’ -
Inside a 15,000-bed field hospital in Mumbai, authorities set up 15 vaccination booths and expected to inoculate up to 1,000 people on Saturday.“Back in May, it felt like a losing battle. We were getting 200 cases a day,” said Rajesh C. Dere, 46, the dean. “Today I feel a great sense of satisfaction that we have succeeded.”
The facility’s first recipient was a young female health worker in lab coat and mask. There was applause as she got the jab in her right arm and gave a thumbs-up with her left.
Mohan Ganpat Nikam, 53, a security guard at another Mumbai hospital, said he was scared last year as the pandemic raged through the country.
“I felt so happy when I heard that my name was on the list for vaccinations,” he told AFP.
Physiotherapist Smita Ringanekar, 42, said she spent months living in a hotel so she could help patients and not infect her aged parents at home.
“I haven’t visited any of my friends or relatives for months,” she told AFP.
“I have seen people dying,” said health worker Santa Roy, 35 in the eastern city of Kolkata, saying he now saw a “ray of hope”.
Ram Babu, the first recipient in Patna, said he went to the temple on the way to the hospital, and was “so excited that I couldn’t sleep.”
‘Deeply challenging’ -
New infection rates in India have fallen sharply in recent months. On Friday 175 people died compared to almost 4,000 a day earlier in the United States.
But experts are concerned a new wave might hit, fuelled by a string of recent mass religious festivals.
Authorities are drawing on their experience with India’s massive elections and child immunisation programmes for polio and tuberculosis.
But in an enormous, impoverished nation with often shoddy transport networks and one of the world’s worst-funded healthcare systems, it is still a daunting undertaking.
Child inoculations are a “much smaller game” and vaccinating against Covid-19 is “deeply challenging”, said Satyajit Rath from the National Institute of Immunology.