Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched on Saturday one of the world's largest vaccination campaigns, as part of efforts by the populous nation to bring the Covid-19 pandemic under control starting with two locally-manufactured shots.
Modi, who addressed healthcare workers through video conferencing, will not immediately take the vaccine himself as India is initially prioritising nurses, doctors and others on the front line.
On the first day, around 100 people will be voluntarily vaccinated in each of the 3,006 centres in the country, the government said this week, calling it the start of the biggest such campaign in the world.
"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.
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.
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.
Some 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.
Modi, 70, has said politicians will not be considered frontline workers.
On Saturday, he 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% effective, according to the Indian drug regulator, while Bharat Biotech says Covaxin's last-stage trial results are expected by March.
Key Highlights From Modi's Speech
- The vaccines are living proof of India's talent and scientific capabilities.
- India's vaccination programme is based on humanitarian principles. Our doctors, nurses, medical and paramedical staff are eligible to get the vaccine before others.
- For the preparation of this vaccination, we have conducted trials, dry runs in states with the help of the state government.
- Two doses of corona vaccine are absolutely essential. Don't make the mistake of not taking the second dose. Two weeks after the second dose, you will develop the power to combat corona.
- The way you remained patient during the war with covid, you must show the same patience in the vaccination.
- More than 100 countries in India have less than 3 crore population. And India is vaccinating 3 crore people in the first stage of vaccination only.
- There are just 3 countries in the world with more than 30 crore population. That's why India's vaccination programme is so big. This shows why vaccination exhibits India's strength.
- Only when our scientists are assured of the power of vaccine, they gave permission for emergency use. People must stay away from rumors.
- We have credibility. We have earned this credibility from our track record. India produces 60% of vaccines given to children in the world. Our vaccines are made in tried and tested methods.
- These vaccines will give defining victory in the war against covid.
- Indian vaccines are cheaper than foreign vaccines. There are some vaccines with each dose costing ₹5,000 and also require a minus 70 degree Celsius temperature for storage.
- We have never lost self-confidence even in the face of a big crisis.
- When Covid-19 came, there was just one covid testing lab. Now, we have more than 2300 labs.
- Atmavishwas and Atmanirbharta are empowering our vaccination drive as well.
- When we look at the past year, we have learned and seen a lot. Now, when India launches vaccination, I also recall those days.
- As much as we think about those days, we become sad. But in those days of crisis, there were people who put their lives in danger to save us. Our doctors, nurses, paramedic, ambulance drivers, police, Asha-workers, and other frontline workers. They gave priority to their duties. Many of them stayed away from their families didn't go home. There are many friends who will never return home. They sacrificed their lives to save us.
- By giving the first vaccine to healthcare workers, this is a homage from our nation.
- No one ever could imagine a pandemic like a coronavirus. Neither science nor society could have imagined covid.
- Many experts were apprehensive of India. They saw our large population as a problem, but we took the right decisions at right time.
- India had made a high-level committee even before the first case came to India. The first advisory came on January 17. The first country to start screening of passengers in airports.
- Janta curfew mentally prepared the country for lockdown. The best way to tackle Covid-19 was to keep people wherever they are.
- We knew it was difficult to keep such a large population inside the home. We knew what will be the impact on the economy. But we treaded on jaan hai to jahan hai formula.
- We set examples before the world. When some countries left their citizens in China, India expatriated its own people and also other countries.
- There are many districts where no one died due to covid.
- The world is looking at us with hope. Many countries will benefit from our experience. We are committed to help humanity with our vaccines.
- The vaccine as well as safety must continue.