Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan expressed “tremendous relief” Saturday evening on conclusion of Day 1 of India’s nationwide Covid vaccination drive – which began a little after 11 am and saw 1,65,714 people vaccinated across 3,351 sites in the country. The Health Ministry stressed that there had been no case of post-vaccine hospitalisation due to adverse side effects.
Dr Vardhan, who was at Delhi’s AIIMS to witness Manish Kumar become the first to receive the jab, hailed the vaccines as “sanjeevani” (a miracle cure) in the fight against the novel coronavirus.
“The vaccines have been presented before the country like ‘sanjeevani‘ in the fight against COVID-19. The fight was gradually heading towards victory… but now it seems almost definite that the step towards victory will be taken quickly,” Dr Vardhan told reporters at a press briefing.
“We received success to an extent in our fight against COVID-19 in the past year. Data from the last three or four months (shows) we’re gradually heading to victory against COVID,” he added.
Dr Vardhan also praised the Indian scientific community for helping to develop, test and mass manufacture at least two viable coronavirus vaccines – Covishield and Covaxin, both of which have been approved for emergency use and were rolled out at different locations across the country.
“To further speed this up, our scientists developed two indigenous vaccines with the support of our scientists, doctors, researchers, vaccine manufacturing industry and citizens of India, who volunteered for clinical trials to make research of scientists successful,” he said.
Earlier today Prime Minister Narendra Modi also praised the scientific community. “It takes years to make a vaccine, but in such a short time, not one but two Made-in-India vaccines were developed. This is a testimony to the skills and talent of our scientists,” the PM said.
Two vaccines have been cleared for emergency use in India – Covishield (developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, and manufactured by Pune’s Serum Institute) and the wholly-homegrown and manufactured Covaxin by Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech.
Covaxin was administered at 12 states on Day 1, the Health Ministry confirmed, adding that 11 states had received Covishield as well.
The green light given to Covaxin has triggered a controversy, with some experts and the opposition (including the Congress) critical of approving a drug that has not yet cleared Phase III trials.
The government has said its decision was based on “a tremendous amount of immunogenicity and safety data” from Phase I and II trials and that vaccine had been allowed in “clinical trial mode”. All those getting Covaxin today also had to sign consent forms.
AIIMS Director Dr Randeep Guleria and Dr VK Paul of government think-tank NITI Aayog received shots of Covaxin today, as senior doctors around the country talked up the vaccine. However, resident doctors at Delhi’s RML Hospital were unconvinced and demanded Covishield instead.
As the shots were being rolled out today, the South-East Asia office of the World Health Organization hailed India’s efforts, calling this the “largest vaccination drive“.
In the first phase of vaccination around one crore healthcare staff and two crore frontline workers, like police, community care workers and sanitation department employees, will receive the shots. They will be followed by around 27 crore people – consisting of those over the age of 50 and those below with serious illnesses and associated comorbidities.