India, home to 1.3 billion people, plans to vaccinate around 300 million people by July.
India launched one of the world’s largest coronavirus vaccinations on Saturday as the coronavirus pandemic spread at record speeds and global COVID-19 deaths surged over two million.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who reached out to health workers via videoconference, will not take the vaccine himself immediately as India gives priority to nurses, doctors and others on the front lines first.
“We are starting the world’s largest vaccination campaign and it shows the world our capabilities,” said Modi in his address. He pleaded with citizens to remain vigilant and not believe “rumors of vaccine safety”.
“Please don’t start being careless after the vaccination, don’t take off your mask, and don’t forget about social distancing,” Modi said.
The sheer scale has its obstacles. For example, India plans to rely heavily on a digital platform to track vaccine shipments and deliveries. However, public health experts point out that the internet remains patchy in much of the country and some remote villages are completely disconnected.
India approved the emergency use of two vaccines: one developed by Oxford University and UK-based drug maker AstraZeneca, and another by Indian company Bharat Biotech on Jan 4th. Cargo planes flew 16.5 million shots in various Indian cities last week.
Health experts fear that the governmental abbreviation used to approve the Bharat Biotech vaccine, without waiting for concrete data to prove its effectiveness in preventing disease from the coronavirus, could add to the vaccine’s hesitation.
At least one state health minister has spoken out against its use.
The Indian Ministry of Health has resisted the criticism, saying the vaccines are safe, but claims that health workers will have no choice over which to give them.
According to Dr. SP Kalantri – director of a rural hospital in Maharashtra, India’s worst-hit state – was worried about such an approach because he said the regulatory approval was premature and not scientifically backed up.
“In a rush to be populist, the government [is] Making decisions that may not be in the best interests of the common man, ”Kalantri said.
With the number of COVID-19 fatalities rising around the world – more than two million on Friday – the clock is ticking to vaccinate as many people as possible. But the campaign was inconsistent.
India ranks second after the US with 10.5 million confirmed cases and ranks third after the US and Brazil with 152,000 deaths.
More than 35 million doses of various COVID-19 vaccines have been administered worldwide, according to Oxford University.
While the majority of COVID-19 vaccine doses have already been picked up by rich countries, COVAX – a United Nations-backed project to deliver gunfire to developing countries – has no vaccine, money, and logistical help.
As a result, the World Health Organization’s chief scientist warned that it is highly unlikely that herd immunity – vaccinating at least 70 percent of the world would require vaccination – will be achieved this year. As the disaster showed, wiping out the virus in a few places is not enough, experts say.