New Delhi: Healthcare workers at the frontline of India’s COVID-19 battle got their first jabs on Saturday with Prime Minister Narendra Modi launching the world’s largest vaccination drive against the pandemic, showing the light at the end of a 10-month tunnel that upended millions of lives and livelihoods.
More than one crore cases and 1.5 lakh fatalities later, India took its first steps out of the pandemic with shots of the Covishield and Covaxin vaccines being administered at medical centres across the country to a collective sigh of relief that this could finally be the beginning of the end of the COVID-19 trauma.
Addressing the nation ahead of the launch, the prime minister reminded people that two doses of the vaccine are very important and asked them to continue with masks and social distancing even after receiving the jabs.
Paving the way for the massive pan-India inoculation drive, the Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) had earlier this month approved Covishield, from the Oxford/AstraZeneca stable and manufactured by the Serum Institute of India, and the indigenously developed Covaxin from Bharat Biotech for restricted emergency use.
Over three lakh healthcare workers will be inoculated on day one at 3,006 sites across all states and union territories. Around 100 beneficiaries will be vaccinated at each session site, officials 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.
Accordingly, sanitation worker Manish Kumar was the first person in the national capital to get a shot at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences.
Across the country, there was an almost festive air with many hospitals and medical centres decorated with flowers, balloons and buntings.
"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 the West Bengal capital Kolkata who received the first shot.
In Gujarat, the drive began at 161 centres in the state where the vaccine jabs were administered to health workers almost simultaneously.
"I am honoured that my name has been selected for 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 the Maharashtra capital 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.
In Madhya Pradesh, where healthcare workers were welcomed with flowers at some centres and doctors performed a ‘puja’ at a temple in Gwalior, a sanitation worker was among the first beneficiaries.
Tulsa Tandi, a 51-year-old sanitation worker was first in the queue in Chhattisgarh.
Tamil Nadu rolled out the COVID-19 vaccination drive at 166 sites across the state with a government doctor here becoming 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.
The drive to combat COVID-19 began in Kerala at 133 designated centres with prominent government doctors among the first batch of frontline workers to be administered the vaccine.
State Health Minister K K Shailaja said 13,300 healthcare workers will be covered in a single day.
The cost of vaccination of healthcare and frontline workers will be borne by the central government.