NEW DELHI: India kicked off the world’s largest Covid-19 inoculation drive on Saturday with thousands of frontline workers and doctors receiving their first vaccine shots on Day 1.
With shots of the Covishield and Covaxin vaccines administered at medical centres across India, citizens heaved a collective sigh of relief in hope that it could finally be the beginning of the end of the Covid-19 trauma.
Launching the campaign earlier today, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that the vaccines will ensure a “decisive victory” for the country over the coronavirus pandemic. Ever since its first confirmed case of coronavirus in January last year, India has reported over 1 crore infections and 1.5 lakh fatalities so far.
The first shots
Manish Kumar, a sanitation worker at AIIMS in Delhi, became the first person in the country to receive a Covid vaccine shot.
Kumar, who works at the hospital along with his mother Laxmi Rani, said he was not at all nervous and was “proud of getting the vaccine”.
“After inoculation, I will continue working without any hesitation. Earlier, I used to hesitate during duties due to coronavirus. Now, there will not be any hesitation,” Kumar told news agency ANI.
Along with healthcare workers like Kumar, others such as AIIMS director Randeep Guleria, NITI Aayog member V K Paul, who is also head of an empowered group on medical equipment and management plan to tackle coronavirus outbreak, BJP MP Mahesh Sharma and West Bengal minister Nirmal Maji also received their first shot of the two-dose vaccine.
Adar Poonawalla, whose Serum Institute of India (SII) manufactured the first lot of Oxford vaccines, was also among those who got vaccinated on Saturday.
Dr Naveen Thacker, a paediatrician who became the first recipient of vaccine jab in Gujarat, said the vaccine is completely safe and inoculation is the only way to overcome the pandemic.
PM Modi launches nationwide vaccination drive against Covid-19
Doctors from the Rajawadi Hospital pose for a selfie as a television broadcasts a live address by India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi before the start of the Covid-19 coronavirus vaccination drive in Mumbai. (AFP photo)
No hospitalisations on Day 1
Briefing media on the first day of the vaccination drive, the Union health ministry said that as many as 1,91,181 beneficiaries were administered shots throughout the country.
Describing the first day as successful, the ministry said that no case of hospitalisation was reported anywhere in the country.
“Serum Institute of India produced Covishield was supplied to all States/UTs. Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin was supplied to 12 States. A total of 3,351 sessions were held across the country with both the vaccines,” it said.
In a separate briefing, Union health minister Harsh Vardhan said that today was a day of “tremendous relief” for the country, adding that the vaccines have been presented before the country like “Sanjeevani”.
“The fight (against Covid) was gradually heading towards victory, now it seems almost definite that the step towards victory will be taken quickly,” Vardhan said on the first day of the inoculation programme.
Apprehension over Covaxin
The nationwide rollout of the two Covid vaccines also renewed apprehensions about the safety of Bharat Biotech’s indigenously developed Covaxin.
Resident doctors of the Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital in the national capital requested the medical superintendent to vaccinate them with the Oxford Covid-19 vaccine Covishield instead of Covaxin
In a letter to the medical superintendent, the association said the resident doctors were “a bit apprehensive” about Covaxin and might not participate in the immunisation drive in large numbers thus defeating the purpose of the exercise.
Vardhan, Tewari in war of words
Meanwhile, senior Congress leader Manish Tewari and health minister Harsh Vardhan sparred on Twitter after the opposition leader questioned the emergency use approval given to Covaxin and alleged that it was “sans due process”.
“As vaccine roll-out begins, it is all a bit puzzling India has no policy framework for authorising emergency use. Yet, two vaccines have been approved for restricted use in emergency situation,” Tewari said in a tweet just before Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the vaccination drive.
“COVAXIN is another story — Approvals sans Due Process,” the former Union minister added, tagging a media report which claimed that scientists and doctors are divided on the issue of restricted use approval granted to the Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin.
Responding to Tewari’s remarks raising questions over approval to Covaxin, Vardhan, in a tweet, quoted English cleric Charles Caleb Colton who said, “So blinded are we by our passions that we suffer more to be damned than to be saved.”
So blinded are we by our passions that we suffer more to be damned than to be saved-Charles Caleb ColtonSh… https://t.co/jF1bwVq6ia
— Dr Harsh Vardhan (@drharshvardhan) 1610785910000
“Sh @ManishTewari & @INCIndia are only passionate about spreading distrust & rumours. Open your eyes, sharing photos of eminent Doctors & Govt functionaries getting inoculated,” Vardhan tweeted and posted pictures from the inoculation drive that began earlier in the day.
PM Modi turns emotional
Earlier today, Prime Minister Narendra Modi turned emotional while launching the vaccination programme as he recalled the sufferings of people during the pandemic.
“A family often comes together to nurse its sick member. But coronavirus isolated its victims who suffered in loneliness as their kin could not tend to them due to fear of infection,” the Prime Minister said in his address before the launch.
“Many sick small children had to live away from their mothers who were in distress and wept but could not do anything. The elderly were compelled to fight the infection at hospitals in loneliness. Their children could not go near them.
“Many people who passed away could not be given traditional last rites that they deserved,” said a visibly emotional Modi.
Netizens laud vaccine launch, #LargestVaccineDrive trends on Twitter
The netizens lauded the Prime Minister for the rollout of the nationwide inoculation drive with the hashtag ‘LargestVaccineDrive’ trending on Twitter.
Launching India’s Covid-19 vaccination drive earlier, Modi reassured the country that emergency use authorisation was given to two made-in-India vaccines only after scientists were convinced of their safety and effectiveness, and urged people to beware of propaganda and rumours.
Soon after the event, Twitter and other social media platforms were abuzz with comments over his speech with several people hailing the Prime Minister’s remarks and the beginning of the vaccination drive.
Just hours after the launch, ‘LargestVaccineDrive’ was trending on Twitter with over 4.3 lakh tweets.
“World was suffering, Yet Indians were optimistic bcoz we knew PM will save us. Economy was suffering, Yet Indians were optimistic bcoz we knew PM will save it. There were confusions on vaccines, Yet Indians were relaxed bcoz we knew PM would select best vaccine. Thank you Modi ji,” a Twitter user said.
Another Twitter user said, “Once again, PM @narendramodi, assured the people of India that ‘we will defeat #COVID19’. Thank you Prime Minister for taking care of us as head of the family.”
Another netizen hailed scientists for their tireless work and Prime Minister Modi for his “impeccable leadership” at the time of crisis.
BJP leaders hail vaccination programme
Several BJP leaders hailed the vaccination drive as a hallmark of self-reliant India.
Describing it as a “momentous” day in India’s history, BJP president JP Nadda said Prime Minister Modi is leading the country from the front in the battle against the Covid-19 by ensuring health services to all when they need it the most.
Today marks a momentous day in the history of the nation as our PM Hon @narendramodi launches the world’s… https://t.co/poe1oK7cyP
— Jagat Prakash Nadda (@JPNadda) 1610775837000
Union home minister and senior BJP leader Amit Shah said the vaccination drive shows the immense potential of India’s scientists and the power of its leadership, as he again hailed the corona warriors.
“The ‘new India’ led by Modi ji transforms disasters into opportunities and challenges into achievements. This ‘Made in India’ vaccine represents the determination of this self-reliant India. On this historic day, I bow to all our Corona warriors,” Shah said in a series of tweets.
Echoing similar sentiments, defence minister Rajnath Singh said the Modi government has taken a decisive step to win the battle against the corona pandemic.
Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath said the vaccination drive is the result of the prime minister’s commitment to a ‘healthy India’.
Meanwhile, Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav took a dig at the Centre and said he has faith in the doctors of the country but not the government.
He also suggested that the BJP people should first line up in queues and get themselves vaccinated as the party conducts all programmes in a grand manner. “After one year, when the SP will come to power, we will ensure free vaccine for all,” he said while asking from the government when the poor will get free vaccines.
(With inputs from agencies)