The first COVID-19 vaccine shots in India were given on Saturday to nearly two lakh frontline healthcare and sanitary workers as Prime Minister Narendra Modi rolled out the world’s largest inoculation drive against the pandemic that has caused 1,52,093 deaths and upended millions of lives in the country.
As Modi asserted that the two vaccines being deployed will ensure a “decisive victory” for India against the coronavirus, the Union Health Ministry said no case of post-inoculation hospitalisation has been reported so far and the vaccination drive was successful. Sanitation workers were the first to get the jabs in Delhi and some states.
However, it emerged in the night that there were two cases–a nurse in West Bengal and a security guard in Delhi–which required hospitalisation after they developed an allergic reaction, according to a West Bengal government official and AIIMS Director Dr Randeep Guleria. Their condition was described by doctors as stable.
The official said a 35-year-old nurse in Kolkata was hospitalised after she lost consciousness post administration of Covishield and she was among the 14 AEFI (Adverse event following immunisation) cases reported from different parts of the state. He said allergic reactions after vaccination are common.
The security guard, who is in his 20s and was administered Covaxin at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in Delhi, complained of palpitations and developed an allergic skin rash within 15-20 minutes after being inoculated and was admitted to the facility, according to Dr Guleria.
A sense of joy and excitement was witnessed at medical centres across the country with the beneficiaries being administered the Covishield and Covaxin vaccines less than a year after India recorded the first coronavirus case in Kerala on January 30 last.
”These vaccines will ensure a decisive victory for India against coronavirus,” Modi said amid a collective sigh of relief that the mass vaccination could finally be the beginning of the end of the COVID-19 trauma at a time when there is a significant drop in daily coronavirus cases.
Addressing the nation ahead of the launch of what he described as the world’s largest vaccination programme, Modi reassured the country that emergency use authorisation was given to the two made in India vaccines only after scientists were convinced of their safety and effectiveness, and urged people to beware of propaganda and rumours.
Manish Kumar, a 34-year-old sanitation worker, was the first recipient of the vaccine shot at Delhi, the Union Health Ministry said.
Kumar, who works at the AIIMS along with his mother Laxmi Rani, said he was not at all nervous and was ”proud of getting the vaccine”, as speculation swirled in some quarters about safety levels of Covaxin that was administered to him in the presence of Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan.
Kumar said many of the staff who were to get the jabs were scared. “So I went to my seniors and said I should be given the vaccine first. I wanted to prove to my colleagues that there is no need to be scared,” he told PTI.
Injecting confidence in the people, several high profile persons, including AIIMS director Randeep Guleria, NITI Aayog member V K Paul, who is also head of an empowered group on medical equipment and management plan to tackle the coronavirus outbreak, Serum Institute of India(SII) CEO Adar Poonawallah, West Bengal minister Nirmal Maji, BJP MP Mahesh Sharma, who is a doctor by profession, Chairman, Apollo Hospitals Group, Dr Prathap C Reddy and Chairman of Manipal Hospitals Sudarshan Ballal also received their first shot of the two-dose vaccine.
Senior doctors received the first shot at many identified vaccination sites to dispel any apprehensions about the vaccine.
Vardhan told reporters that the two vaccines — Covaxin developed by Bharat Biotech and Covishield from the Oxford/AstraZeneca stable manufactured by the SII — were a ‘sanjivani’, life infusing, in the fight against the pandemic.
”We have got encouraging and satisfactory feedback results on the first day. This indicates that we are moving towards victory in the fight against coronavirus,” he said during a review meeting in the evening.
Covaxin has demonstrated the ability to produce antibodies against COVID-19 in phase one and phase two trials.
”However, the clinical efficacy is yet to be established and it is still being studied in phase 3 clinical trial,” the form read.
Hence, it is important to appreciate that receiving the vaccine does not mean that other precautions related to COVID-19 need not be followed, it said.
The shots are first being offered to an estimated one crore healthcare workers, and around two crore frontline workers, and then to persons above 50 years of age, followed by persons younger than 50 years of age with associated comorbidities.
The cost of vaccination of healthcare and frontline workers will be borne by the central government From the heights of Ladakh to coastal Kerala, there was an almost festive air at many hospitals and medical centres decorated with flowers, balloons and buntings. Prayers, and sweets and gift hampers too, were offered in several places. One video showed a vaccine box being garlanded as a nurse performed an ‘arti’.
”It’s a great day for humankind. I feel elated to get the first dose,” said Bipasha Seth, a doctor at a private hospital in Kolkata.
“We were in a state of depression for the last year. From today, we will again relive our lives,” he said.
”I am honoured that my name has been selected for the first dose of vaccine at this centre in Rajkot. I didn’t have any apprehensions…,” said Ashok bhai, who drives a medical van and was among the first recipients in the state.
In Mumbai, JJ Hospital Dean Dr Ranjit Mankeshwar was among the first in the state to get the shot. The inoculation drive is taking place at 285 centres in Maharashtra.
Ranganath Bhojje, a worker at the Goa Medical College and Hospital (GMCH), kicked off the vaccination drive in the coastal state and said he was feeling “rather lucky”.
Tulsa Tandi, a 51-year-old sanitation worker was first in the queue in Chhattisgarh.
”Tulsa Tandi, a Swacchtakarmi (sanitation worker) at the Dr B R Ambedkar Memorial Hospital Raipur since 2008, was the first person to get vaccinated in the state,” state director for the National Health Mission Priyanka Shukla told PTI.
Tamil Nadu rolled out the COVID-19 vaccination drive at 166 sites across the state with a government doctor the first to be administered the shot.
And in Telangana, a woman sanitation worker received the first dose of COVID-19 vaccine at a Hyderabad hospital to cheers and claps. Union Minister of State for Home G Kishan Reddy and Telangana Health Minister Eatala Rajender formally launched the vaccination programme at the state-run Gandhi Hospital.