India begins world’s biggest Covid-19 vaccine drive
Published: 12:10 PM, 16 January 2021 Updated: 05:36 PM, 16 January 2021
Around 300,000 people will be vaccinated at 3,000 centres on the first day. Photo: Collected
India has begun the world's biggest Covid-19 vaccination programme on Saturday, aiming to protect more than 1.3 billion people from the disease.
According to the Union Health Ministry, around 300,000 people will be vaccinated at 3,000 centres on the first day. About 150,000 staff in 700 districts have been trained to administer jabs and keep records.
The vaccination programme will use shots manufactured in India - one developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca, the other by Bharat Biotech with the country's top clinical research body.
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the drive, saying health workers will be given the jab first.
With more than 10 million cases, India has recorded the second-highest number of Covid-19 infections in the world, after the US.
India was well prepared to vaccinate its population with the help of an indigenous app, which would help the government track the drive and ensure that nobody was left out, Modi said, addressing the country on Saturday morning.
He spoke at length about doctors, nurses and other front-line workers "who showed us the light" in "dark times".
An estimated 10 million health workers will be vaccinated in the first round, followed by policemen, soldiers, municipal and other front-line workers.
Next in line will be people aged over 50 and anyone under 50 with serious underlying health conditions. India's electoral rolls, which contain details of some 900 million voters, will be used to identify eligible recipients.
The government plans to vaccinate 300 million people by early August. This will happen in state-run health care centres, schools, colleges, community halls, municipal offices and wedding halls.
Several hospitals across India are geared up to give the first doses of the vaccine.
India's drug regulator has given the green light to two vaccines - Covishield (the local name for the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine developed in the UK) and Covaxin, locally-made by pharma company Bharat Biotech.
But concerns have been raised over the efficacy of Covaxin because the regulator's emergency approval came before the completion of Phase 3 clinical trials. The regulator and the manufacturer have said the vaccine is safe, and that the efficacy data would be available by February.
Both vaccines will be given as two injections, 28 days apart, with the second dose being a booster. Immunity would begin to kick in after the first dose but reaches its full effect 14 days after the second dose.