Just about fifteen days short of a year since the first COVID-19 case was reported in India, the Centre rolled out the nationwide vaccination programme on Saturday. The Union health ministry said that 1.91 lakh healthcare and sanitary workers were vaccinated in 3,352 sites across the country on day one of the inoculation exercise.
Briefing the press at the end of the first day, Additional Health Secretary M Agnani said that the programme had been a "success" as no cases of post-vaccination hospitalisation had been reported as of 7 pm on Saturday. In the presser, Agnani said that around 1.65 lakh people had been vaccinated with the help of 16,755 personnel.
The states and UTs where both Covishield and Covaxin were administered were Assam (65 sessions), Bihar (301), Delhi (81), Haryana (77), Karnataka (242), Maharashtra (285), Odisha (161), Rajasthan (167) Tamil Nadu (160), Telangana (14) and Uttar Pradesh (317).
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who launched the programme on Saturday morning, said that the two vaccines approved for use, Bharat Biotech's 'Covaxin' and Oxford-AstraZeneca's 'Covishield', "will ensure a decisive victory" against the COVID-19 pandemic. So far, the pandemic has claimed 1,52,093 lives in the country.
'Covishield' is being manufactured by the Pune-based Serum Institute of India (SII).
Union health minister Harsh Vardhan also termed the vaccines as "sanjeevani (life-infusing)" and said, "Today is perhaps the day of tremendous relief for all of us in the past one year. Data in last 3-4 months, our recovery and fatality rate indicate that we were gradually heading towards victory against COVID-19."
Towards the end of the exercise, Vardhan held a virtual review meeting with the health ministers of all states and Union territories and cautioned them to dispel rumours about the efficacy of the vaccines. "There's a small section that is spreading rumours about vaccines, their utility, their safety, to mislead the people in society. But such a large number of people received vaccines today with great joy and enthusiasm, eminent doctors received the vaccine."
" Ministry of Health (@MoHFW_INDIA) January 16, 2021
While government officials said that no adverse reaction was reported on the first day, reports emerged about cases of adverse reactions in Delhi, Telangana, and Maharashtra.
PTI and India Today reported that one "severe", and 51 "minor" cases of adverse reactions after vaccination were reported among health workers in Delhi. The Indian Express reported that Maharashtra had recorded 14 cases of adverse events, however, none were fatal.
A separate report by The Indian Express also quoted Telangana public health director G Srinivasa Rao as saying that 11 mild cases of adverse reactions were noted. They experienced "pain, giddiness, and sweating, which are the most common in any vaccination program," he reportedly said.
The number of people who have tested positive for the new UK variant of SARS-CoV-2 in the country has climbed to 116, the Union Health Ministry said on Saturday.
Sanitation and healthcare workers first to get vaccine jab
Loud applause and cheers rang out as the first jabs were administered to healthcare workers at hospitals and centres across the country. AIIMS director Randeep Guleria and SII CEO Adar Poonawalla were among the public figures who received the jab on Saturday.
"This is the beginning of the final war," said Dr Naveen Thacker, a paediatrician and member of the >Gujarat government's task force on coronavirus, after receiving the first vaccine in the state.
"As you can see, I have not felt any adverse effect even an hour after getting inoculated. I am blessed to be the first recipient...The vaccine is totally safe, effective, and we can defeat coronavirus only when all of us get vaccinated," he said.
Vaccination rooms were decorated with flowers and balloons, the first beneficiaries were welcomed with 'aarti', garlands and sweets, and people posed with victory signs after receiving the shots.
Doctors, nurses, sanitation workers and eminent functionaries were among the people who received the shots, while chief ministers and senior officials made rounds of the vaccination sites across the country.
For many health workers like Jalpa Gandhi, a nurse at the Ahmedabad civil hospital, there was a sense of comfort as they recalled the months spent during the coronavirus pandemic with fears that they may catch the virus while at work.
"I feel relieved after the vaccination. I wore PPE kits when attending to patients, but there was always this apprehension that I might get infected," said Gandhi who has been on COVID-19 duty from 22 March, 2020, when the first coronavirus patient in the state was admitted to the civil hospital.
Tamil Nadu Government Doctors Association president Dr K Senthil, who was the first to be administered the vaccine in the state in the presence of Chief Minister K Palaniswami, said, "We saw agony, pain and many deaths due to coronavirus. We have been waiting for the vaccine for the past 10 months and it arrived sooner than we expected and we thank the state and central governments for it."
In >Hyderabad, S Krishnamma, a sanitation worker, was administered the first shot amid cheers by those present at the Gandhi Hospital. Krishnamma was quoted by PTI as saying that though she was a little apprehensive earlier, she was reassured by the hospital authorities.
She did not have any health complaints after taking the vaccine and appealed to all to receive the shot.
In >Delhi, Manish Kumar, a sanitation worker, became the first person to be administered a COVID-19 vaccine at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences.
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".
Guleria also received a shot of the vaccine followed by NITI Aayog member VK Paul.
Volunteers were given chocolates, cakes and juices after the shots at the Rajiv Gandhi Super Speciality hospital (RGSSH) in Delhi.
At >Mumbai's Cooper Hospital, dozens of health workers clapped and cheered the "vaccine carrier" staff who were given a traditional welcome with aarti'.
The Times of India reported that there was less than 50 percent turnout in the city. 1,926 health care workers were vaccinated out of the 4000 listed for today across 10 centers," the report said.
Additionally, Maharashtra health minister Rajesh Tope said that while the state requires 17.5 lakh vaccine doses to immunise its cohort of healthcare workers, it had received only 10 lakh doses.
In >Srinagar, director of the SKIMS AG Ahangar received the first shot at the centre. Several doctors, including heads of institutions, heads of departments and chief medical officers of various districts in Jammu and Kashmir, received the jabs to boost confidence in the vaccination process.
Poonawalla shared on Twitter a video of receiving the jab. "I wish India & Sri @narendramodi ji great success in launching the world's largest COVID vaccination roll-out. It brings me great pride that #COVISHIELD is part of this historic effort & to endorse its safety & efficacy, I join our health workers in taking the vaccine myself," he tweeted.
I wish India & Sri @narendramodi ji great success in launching the world's largest COVID vaccination roll-out. It brings me great pride that #COVISHIELD is part of this historic effort & to endorse it's safety & efficacy, I join our health workers in taking the vaccine myself. pic.twitter.com/X7sNxjQBN6
" Adar Poonawalla (@adarpoonawalla) January 16, 2021
In >Kolkata, Raja Chowdhury, a Group D staff at the state-run SSKM Hospital, was given the first dose of Covishield in West Bengal as the inoculation exercise started in the presence of West Bengal urban development minister Firhad Hakim.
"Today I feel so relieved after receiving the vaccine. It's a lifetime experience and I will tell everyone about it. All these months, I have seen what this disease can do to a family, how dreams have been shattered," Chowdhury told PTI.
During an interaction with Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik through video conferencing, the first recipient of the vaccine in the state, Biranchi Naiak, said, "I got the shot about one hour ago and I do not feel any substantial side effect. I am absolutely fine."
In >Madhya Pradesh, Asha Pawar (55), who received the vaccine at Maharaja Yeshwantrao (MY) Hospital in Indore said she had no apprehensions about the safety of the vaccine and hoped that it will prove helpful in saving lives. Haridev Yadav, a security guard, received the vaccine at Bhopal's JP Hospital vaccination centre.
Bharat Biotech to provide compensation if adverse reactions reported
Health workers who got their first shots of Bharat Biotech's Covaxin at AIIMS were made to sign a consent form that promised compensation in case of a "severe adverse event" related to the vaccine.
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.
Authorities said in case of any adverse event, the affected person will be provided medically-recognised standard of care in the government-designated hospitals.
"The compensation for a serious adverse event will be paid by sponsor (Bharat Biotech) if the SAE is proven to be causally related to the vaccine, the form read.
Narendra Modi, Harsh Vardhan hail COVID-19 warriors
Modi and other leaders hailed the corona warriors and remembered those who lost their lives in the pandemic since January last year.
Modi also spoke of the disruption the pandemic had caused to people's lives, isolating victims of the coronavirus and denying the dead traditional last rites.
The country has so far reported 1.05 crore COVID-19 cases and 1,52,093 deaths.
Modi also referred to sacrifices made by healthcare and frontline workers, hundreds of whom lost their lives to the viral infection.
"Our vaccination programme is driven by humanitarian concerns, those exposed to maximum risk will get priority," the prime minister said, while noting that young and old in every household have had the same question for some time as to when will the coronavirus vaccine arrive.
Vardhan said it was an epoch-making moment for India that will take us closer to ending this pandemic.
"We have won the battle against polio and now we have reached the decisive phase of winning the war against COVID. I want to congratulate all frontline workers on this day," he told reporters shortly after the vaccine shots were administered.
Speaking to chief ministers on Saturday evening, Vardhan said, "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."
"The cooperation of scientists, researchers, doctors and all the citizens who have volunteered for the clinical trial have ensured that we have two vaccines ready for administration in a span of 10 months, he said.
The state health ministers and secretaries apprised Vardhan on the progress and the target achieved on the first day of the vaccination drive.
They also shared that workers faced minor technical glitches in uploading details of beneficiaries on a digital platform on the first day of the drive.
Several eminent personalities like cricketer Sachin Tendulkar, Paresh Rawal, and Priyanka Chopra also lauded the government.
Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu described it as a "red-letter day" for the people of India and lauded scientists for developing the vaccines in a record time.
Union ministers, including Amit Shah, said the made-in-India vaccines represent the determination of a "self-reliant India" and lauded Modi's leadership.
Congress, SP question efficacy of Covaxin; Vardhan, Manish Tewari get into a Twitter spat
Congress leader Manish Tewari and Vardhan sparred on Twitter with the Opposition leader raising questions over the efficacy of the indigenously-developed 'Covaxin'. Vardhan hit back alleging that Tewari was "only passionate about spreading rumours".
On Saturday morning, Tewari tweeted, "As vaccine roll-out begins, it is all a bit puzzling India has no policy framework for authorising emergency use. Yet, two vaccines have been approved for restricted use in emergency situation. COVAXIN is another story " Approvals sans Due Process."
Responding to Tewari's remarks, Vardhan said, "Sh @ManishTewari & @INCIndia are only passionate about spreading distrust & rumours. Open your eyes, sharing photos of eminent Doctors & Govt functionaries getting inoculated."
Hitting back at Vardhan for his jibe, Tewari said, "Dear Dr @drharshvardhan, Concerns that I have articulated are real & not imagined. It is not fear Mongering. Look what is happening in Norway. It may be a different vaccine but do not hide behind vaccine nationalism. ANS QUES's Expected better of you Sir."
Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav on his part, questioned when the underprivileged sections will receive the vaccine.
Separately, the Resident Doctors' Association (RDA) of the Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital in Delhi had requested the medical superintendent to vaccinate them with Oxford COVID-19 vaccine Covishield.
In a letter to the medical superintendent, the association said the resident doctors were "a bit apprehensive" about Covaxin and might not participate in the immunisation drive in large numbers thus defeating the purpose of the exercise.
"We have come to know that the COVID-19 vaccination drive is being conducted by the hospital today. Covaxin manufactured by Bharat Biotech is being preferred in our hospital over Covishield manufactured by Serum Institute.
"The residents are a bit apprehensive about the lack of complete trial in case of Covaxin and might not participate in huge numbers thus defeating the purpose of vaccination. We request you to vaccinate us with Covishield which has completed all stages of trial before its roll-out," the letter stated.
With inputs from agencies