Sanitation worker gets first shot as India launches 'world's largest' COVID-19 vaccination campaign

Sanitation worker gets first shot as India launches 'world's largest' COVID-19 vaccination campaign

COVID-19 vaccination in New Delhi
Sanitation worker Manish Kumar receives Bharat Biotech's COVID-19 vaccine, called COVAXIN, during the COVID-19 vaccination campaign at All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) hospital in New Delhi on Jan 16, 2021. (Photo: Reuters/Adnan Abidi)

NEW DELHI: Sanitation worker Manish Kumar became the first person in India to be vaccinated against COVID-19 on Saturday (Jan 16), as Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched one of the world's largest immunisation campaigns to bring the pandemic under control, ​​​​​​​starting with two locally-manufactured shots.

India is prioritising nurses, doctors and other frontline workers, and Modi had tears in his eyes as he addressed healthcare workers through video conferencing.

"The disease separated people from their families, kept mothers away from their children, and those who died of the disease couldn't even get a final goodbye from their families," Modi said.

The singing of Sanskrit hymns followed the prime minister's address. Modi, 70, has not said whether he will be taking the vaccine, but he has said that politicians would not be considered frontline workers.

Launch one of the world's largest COVID-19 vaccination campaigns at a government-run hospital,
Healthcare workers watch Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressing them through video conferencing to launch one of the world's largest COVID-19 vaccination campaigns at a government-run hospital in Kolkata on Jan 16, 2021. (Photo: Reuters/Rupak De Chowdhuri)

Kumar received his shot at Delhi's premier All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), just one of 3,006 vaccination centres established around the country.

On the first day of an immunisation campaign that the government says is the biggest in the world, India aims to vaccinate around 300,600 people.

"This will be the world’s largest vaccination programme covering the entire length and breadth of the country," Modi's office said in a statement this week.

COVID-19 vaccination campaign in the remote Koraput district
Eswar Jani, 31, a sanitation worker, receives COVISHIELD, a COVID-19 vaccine manufactured by the Serum Institute of India, at Mathalput Community Health Centre in the remote Koraput district of the eastern state of Odisha on Jan 16, 2021. (Photo: Reuters/Danish Siddiqui)

India, the world's most populous country after China, has said it may not need to vaccinate all of its 1.35 billion people to create herd immunity. Still, covering even half its population will make it one of the largest immunisation programmes in the world, even if countries like the United States were to vaccinate every resident.

Beneficiaries, however, will not be able to choose between the Oxford University/AstraZeneca vaccine and a government-backed, homegrown one from Bharat Biotech whose efficacy is not known. Both are being produced locally.

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India, which has reported the highest number of coronavirus infections after the United States, wants to vaccinate around 300 million people with two doses in the first six to eight months of the year.

About 10.5 million people in India have been infected with the coronavirus, more than 151,000 of whom have died, though the rate of cases has come down since a mid-September peak.

First to get the vaccine will be 30 million health and other frontline workers, such as those in sanitation and security, followed by about 270 million people older than 50 or deemed high-risk because of pre-existing medical conditions.

The outbreak of the cornavirus disease (COVID-19) in New Delhi
A woman stands outside a COVID-19 vaccination centre at the Max hospital in New Delhi on Jan 16, 2021. (Photo: Reuters/Anushree Fadnavis)

On Saturday, Modi is also expected to formally inaugurate the government's online platform Co-WIN that will provide information on vaccine stocks, storage temperature and keep track of beneficiaries.

The government has already bought 11 million doses of the AstraZeneca COVISHIELD shot, produced by the Serum Institute of India, and 5.5 million of Bharat Biotech's COVAXIN.

COVISHIELD is 72 per cent effective, according to the Indian drug regulator, while Bharat Biotech says COVAXIN's last-stage trial results are expected by March.

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Source: Reuters

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