India Starts Massive Inoculation Drive Despite Vaccine Doubts

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    Health-workers flashed victory signs after being given coronavirus vaccines and top officials sought to dispel fears about the shots as India kicked off one of the largest inoculation drives in the world on Saturday, setting in motion a complex plan to stem infections across a nation of more than 1.3 billion people.

    At hospitals and vaccination centers across major Indian cities — from Mumbai to New Delhi — an estimated 165, 714 people received vaccines on the first day, according to provisional data released by the federal health ministry. Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the program with a speech addressing more than 3,300 centers across India, where the first shots were given.

    “These vaccines will help India win the battle against the virus,” Modi said, adding that Indians should get the shots and not pay heed to any anti-vaccine propaganda.

    Vaccine Anxiety

    Randeep Guleria, a member of Modi’s taskforce for Covid-19 management and V.K. Paul, who heads a panel advising the prime minister on the country’s efforts to produce and roll-out the inoculations, both sought to dispel fears about the vaccines.

    Questions around its safety and efficacy erupted after India’s drug regulator gave the green light to Bharat Biotech International Ltd’s indigenously produced Covaxin shot this month even though it has yet to clear final-stage trials. Both Guleria and Paul told reporters they were injected with the controversial vaccine in New Delhi.

    “Don’t go by the various statements going around on social media about side effects. Have faith in your scientists and your researchers and the regulator,” Guleria said. “Come forward, get yourself be vaccinated.”

    India has also granted an emergency use license to the Serum Institute of India Ltd. which has partnered with AstraZeneca Plc to make at least one billion doses of their candidate.

    “I have no apprehension. Both the vaccines are safe,”said Sandeep Nayar, 54, a senior doctor at the BLK Super Specialty Hospital in New Delhi, who had been chosen to get the first shot at his hospital. He flashed a victory sign for waiting photographers after receiving the injection.

    On Saturday, Adar Poonawalla, the CEO of Serum, posted a video of him being injected with the vaccine.

    In a hospital in Mumbai, health workers chanted the Hindu god Ganesha’s name, believed to bless new beginnings, as they moved vials from cold storage to the vaccination sites. Many health workers and hospital staff shortlisted to be inoculated on the first day of the campaign said they were relieved to be on the list.

    The inoculation campaign across the world’s second-most populous country will showcase whether Covid-19 can be swiftly tamed in nations with disjointed health and transportation networks. Officially, more than 10.5 million people in India have been infected with the disease that has also killed over 150,000 in the country.

    Unexpected Glitches

    The effort comes as more-developed nations struggle in trying to rush out inoculations. Though the U.S. and other countries have stockpiled hundreds of millions of doses, the pace of vaccinations has been challenged by unexpected glitches and logistical problems.

    India’s rollout is one of the earliest and most ambitious in Asia, where many nations are taking a slower approach in vaccinating their populations. That’s partly because those countries are facing less severe virus outbreaks than India, which has the second-highest number of infections in the world.

    Asian Nations That Tamed Virus Are Wary of Speedy Vaccinations

    New Delhi has made its first purchase of 11 million Astra shots, as well as 5.5 million vials of Covaxin, the indigenous inoculation produced by Bharat Biotech.

    Plans drawn up by India’s health ministry outline steps to vaccinate 300 million people in the first stage through August.

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