Sanitation worker Manish Kumar became the first person in India to be vaccinated against COVID-19 on Saturday, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched one of the world’s largest immunisation campaigns to bring the pandemic under control.
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.
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.
With a population of nearly 1.4 billion people, India is the world’s most populous country after China, but the government says it will not have the vaccinate everyone to achieve herd immunity.
India has reported the highest number of coronavirus infections after the United States, and it plans to vaccinate around 300 million people with two doses in the first six to eight months of the year.
People will not be able to choose between the Oxford University/AstraZeneca vaccine and a government-backed vaccine developed by India’s Bharat Biotech whose efficacy is not known. Both are being produced locally.
Some 10.5 million people in India have been infected with the coronavirus, including more than 151,000 who died, though the rate of infection has come down from its peak in mid-September.
First in line for the vaccine are some 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 government has already bought 11 million doses of the AstraZeneca COVISHIELD shot, produced by the Serum Institute of India, and 5.5 million doses of Bharat Biotech’s COVAXIN.
COVISHIELD is 72% effective, according to the Indian drug regulator, while Bharat Biotech says COVAXIN’s last-stage trial results are expected by March.