India's Modi kicks off vaccination campaign, among world's largest

Modi will not immediately take the vaccine himself


AFP And Reuters January 16, 2021
Healthcare workers watch Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressing them through video conferencing to launch one of the world's largest COVID-19 vaccination campaigns at a government-run hospital in Kolkata, India, January 16, 2021. REUTERS

NEW DELHI:

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 prioritizing nurses, doctors and others on the front line.

- 300 million people -

Over the coming months, India aims to inoculate around a quarter of the population, or 300 million people. They include healthcare workers, people aged over 50 and those at high risk.

On the first day, around 300,000 people will be vaccinated at 3,000 centres. About 150,000 staff in 700 districts have been trained to administer jabs and keep records.

The government aims to manage the entire process digitally with its own app, CoWIN, which will link every vaccine dose to its recipient.

- 45,000 fridges (and one bike) -

India has four "mega depots" to take delivery of the vaccines and transport them to state distribution hubs in temperature-controlled vans, keeping the doses colder than 8 degrees Celsius (46.4 Fahrenheit).

A total of 29,000 cold-chain points, 240 walk-in coolers, 70 walk-in freezers, 45,000 ice-lined refrigerators, 41,000 deep freezers and 300 solar fridges are at the ready.

These will be needed once the Indian summer arrives in the coming months.

In one recent practice run in a rural area, a consignment of dummy vaccines was photographed being delivered by bicycle.

- Three seconds -

To stop any of the vials being stolen and being sold on India's large drugs black market, authorities are taking no chances, with armed police guarding every truck.

CCTVs are in place at warehouses with entry subject to fingerprint authentication. Automated data loggers will monitor storage temperature and transfer messages every three seconds to a central unit, according to the Times of India.

"Security measures are essential to not only address the issue of logistics and safety but also build confidence in people that the supply chain is intact, unbroken and safe to the point of delivery," Preeti Kumar, a public health specialist, told AFP.

- 200 rupees per dose -

India has ordered an initial 11 million doses of Covishield, AstraZeneca's vaccine made by India's Serum Institute, at 200 rupees ($2.74) each, and 5.5 million doses of Covaxin at 206 rupees each.

The government's "emergency approval" of Covaxin, made by India's Bharat Biotech, has some doctors worried because Phase 3 human trials are yet to be completed.

Authorities say that people will be given two doses of one of the vaccines -- and not one of each -- 28 days apart. Effectiveness begins 14 days after the second shot, they say.

Serum plans later to sell the jab privately to Indian individuals and firms for 1,000 rupees ($14), raising fears that the rich will get inoculated sooner.

- 69 percent in no hurry -

A recent survey of 18,000 people across India found that 69 percent were in no rush to get a Covid-19 shot, in part due to public scepticism fuelled by online disinformation.

Health Minister Harsh Vardhan took to social media on Thursday to dispel some of the doubts.

"There is no scientific evidence to suggest that #COVIDVaccine could cause infertility in either men or women. Kindly do not pay heed to such rumours or information from unverified sources," he said in one tweet.

- And one Brazilian plane -

Other developing countries are banking on India for getting vaccines. Brazil is reportedly sending a plane to India this weekend in the hope of collecting two million doses from Serum.

India plans to offer 20 million doses to its neighbours, with the first batches shipped over the next two weeks, Bloomberg News reported. Latin America, Africa and ex-Soviet republics will be next.

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