India’s vaccination program is the biggest in the world, perhaps ever.
As world deaths from Covid-19 reach the 2 million mark, India began its massive inoculation program today with the objective of inoculating over 300 million people in the country by August. A health worker in Delhi was the first to receive the jab. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the vaccination drive at 10:30 am via video conferencing.
In his nationalistic and visibly emotional appeal, Modi said that it is a validation of India’s scientists that the nation supplies vaccines to the world. He recalled the more than 150,000 deaths in India, and also urged people to not fall for the rumors and propaganda that question the safety and efficacy of the two vaccines made in India. Scientists approved the vaccinations after being convinced about their safety, Modi asserted.
The two Covid-19 vaccines approved in India are AstraZeneca-Oxford University’s Covishield manufactured by Pune-based Serum Institute of India (SII) and Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech’s locally conceived Covaxin.
India aims to administer vaccines to around 30 million people in the first tranche, initially covering health workers and other frontline workers including sanitation workers, police, and armed personnel. All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) Director and member of the National Covid-19 Task Force, Dr Randeep Guleria, was one of the first ones to receive the vaccine.
India’s Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan joined doctors and potential vaccine beneficiaries at AIIMS to see the launch of the nationwide vaccine drive. He said that misinformation is being spread about the vaccines and asked the media to fight the misinformation: “I am very happy and satisfied today. We have been fighting against Covid-19 under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s leadership for the last one year. With [the] help of doctors and scientists, we have an Indian vaccine now, this vaccine will work as a sanjeevani in the fight against Covid-19, which has entered the final stage.”
But not everybody is convinced. As we have reported earlier, the homegrown vaccine Covaxin has received serious backlash. A large number of states have either appealed against or rejected the vaccine entirely, saying it has not all undergone all the needed steps in vaccine research and is therefore insufficiently proven. Covaxin vaccines form nearly a quarter of the total vaccines in this tranche. Vaccines are optional in India.
Several state Chief Ministers attended the launch of the vaccine drive at government hospitals in their respective states. There is concern also about indemnities and lack of clarity about who is liable in case of related issues.
In the United Kingdom, the liability lies with the government. In Norway, authorities are reported to be investigating the deaths of 23 people over 80 years old who received the Covid-19 vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech.