The regional office of the World Health Organization tweeted Saturday as India launched the first phase of a nationwide drive to vaccinate around three crore people against the novel coronavirus.
In messages posted after Prime Minister Narendra Modi's address to the nation, the WHO's South-East Asia office said it was "the largest vaccination drive" and posted photographs of men and women being administered the vaccine at different centres across the country.
"India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi today launched COVID-19 vaccination targeting 300 million (30 crore) priority groups, including healthcare and frontline workers, in the first phase. Around 100 persons will get Covid vaccination at each of India's 3,006 sites on the inaugural day of the largest vaccination drive," WHO South-East Asia said.
India's ???????? Prime Minister @narendramodi today launched #COVID19Vaccination targeting 300 million priority groups, including #healthcare and #frontlineworkers, in the first phase. #LargestVaccinationDrive#IndiaFightsCoronapic.twitter.com/VqSufmtEw4— WHO South-East Asia (@WHOSEARO) January 16, 2021
"The first phase of COVID-19 vaccination is expected to cover 10 million (one crore) healthcare workers, 20 million (two crore) frontline workers and 270 million (27 crore) above age 50 years and/or with co-morbidities," the organisation added.
The nationwide Covid vaccination drive began a little after 11 am, with a sanitation worker at Delhi's AIIMS the first person in the country to receive a shot. "I was not reluctant to get the vaccine shot... people should not be afraid," Manish Kumar told news agency ANI.
The first phase #COVID19Vaccination is expected to cover 10 million #healthcare workers, 20 million #frontlineworkers and 270 million above age 50 years and/or with co-morbidities. #LargestVaccinationDrive#IndiaFightsCoronapic.twitter.com/y3qVA01kc5— WHO South-East Asia (@WHOSEARO) January 16, 2021
Earlier Prime Minister Modi paid tribute to those playing key roles in the battle to contain the virus, and also cautioned against spreading rumours about the efficacy of the vaccines and warned people to continue following Covid-appropriate behaviour even after receiving the injections
Across India some 3,000 sites will vaccinate around 100 people each today. About 1.5 lakh staff have been trained to administer the shots and keep records.
The vaccination drive has been planned in a phased manner and includes identifying priority groups and informing candidates via phones. The government has also said that the CoWIN app (short for Covid Vaccine Intelligence Network) will be used to manage the massive vaccination drive.
The government has also held three nationwide dry runs to proof the vaccine delivery system; the third was held on January 8 at 4,895 sites across 615 districts in 33 states and union territories covered.
Two vaccines have been cleared for emergency use in India - Covishield and Bharat Biotech's Covaxin. While the former has completed the three phases of clinical trials as mandated by law, and reported a 70.42 per cent efficacy rate, Covaxin has only finished two; the third is ongoing.
Questions were raised after the Covaxin was cleared, but the government said the decision was based on "a tremendous amount of immunogenicity and safety data" from Phase I and II trials. The vaccine, the government has said, has been allowed in "clinical trial mode".
PM Modi and senior ministers and medical experts, including Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan, have stressed on the safety of Covaxin, but fears over its safety remain. This afternoon resident doctors at Delhi's RML Hospital demanded they be given Covishield instead of Covaxin.
The government had earlier said that people would not be given a choice of vaccines.
The pandemic has killed over 1.5 lakh people in India so far and infected over 1.05 crore. As of Saturday morning, there were around 2.11 lakh active cases in the country.
Vaccination drives have begun in numerous other countries as well, with the United Kingdom the first in the world to start administering the drugs. The UK, which has cleared Covishield and the Pfizer vaccine, gave its first shot to an 82-year-old man earlier this month.