World's largest vaccination drive began in India on Saturday as Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the nationwide COVID-19 vaccine rollout.
The vaccination program covers the entire length and breadth of the country and aims to first inoculate millions of healthcare and frontline workers and reach an estimated 3 crore people by the end of its first phase.
Speaking at the launch via video conference Modi said, "Everyone was asking as to when the vaccine will be available. It is available now. I congratulate all the countrymen on this occasion."
"Normally, it takes many years to make a vaccine but in such a short span of time, not one, but two 'Made in India' vaccines are ready. Meanwhile, the work on other vaccines is progressing at a fast pace," he added.
He requested the people continue to maintain social distancing and wear masks.
"I request you not to make the mistake of taking off the mask and not maintaining social distancing after getting the first dose because immunity develops after the second dose," Modi said.
The Prime Minister said that India is among the few countries that provided medicines and medical help to over 150 countries around the world.
"India is among the few countries which despite hardships, provided medicines & medical help to over 150 countries around the world. Whether it is paracetamol, hydroxychloroquine, or testing equipment, India has made every possible effort to save people of other countries," he said.
"Today, when we've developed our own vaccine, the world is looking at India with hope. As our vaccination drive will move forward, other countries of world will benefit from it. India's vaccine & our production capability must be used for human interest, this is our commitment," he further said.
A total of 3,006 session sites across all States and Union Territories will be virtually connected during the launch. Around 100 beneficiaries will be vaccinated at each session site on the inaugural day.
Several hospitals across the country have been decorated with flowers and balloons where people will be inoculated.
Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan will visit AIIMS Delhi to witness the launch of the vaccination programme.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal will witness the launch of COVID-19 vaccination programme at Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Narayan Hospital today. "Doctors, nursing and sanitation staff will be given vaccine today," said Suresh Kumar, Medical Director of the hospital.
In the next phases of the vaccination drive, people aged over 50, and those who are below 50 years but have serious health conditions or co-morbidities will be vaccinated, according to the health ministry.
Dry-runs have been held at vaccination centres across the country with lakhs of healthcare staff across districts being trained.The drugs regulatory body of India has currently approved two vaccines. Pune-based Serum Institute of India has developed the Covishield vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University. while the Covaxin has been developed by Hyderabad's Bharat Biotech in collaboration with the Indian Medical Council of research (ICMR) and National Institute of Virology.
The vaccination programme in the country will use Co-WIN (Covid Vaccine Intelligence Work), an online digital platform developed by the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, which will facilitate real-time information of vaccine stocks, storage temperature and individualized tracking of beneficiaries for COVID-19 vaccine.
This digital platform will assist programme managers across all levels while conducting vaccination sessions.A dedicated 24x7 call centre - 1075 - has also been established for addressing the queries related to Covid-19 pandemic, vaccine rollout and the Co-WIN software.
The full initial procurement amount of 1.65 crore doses of Covishield and Covaxin vaccines against Covid-19 have been allocated to all States/UTs in the proportion of Health Care Workers database, the Union Health Ministry stated.
Most of the states have received the first batch of the coronavirus doses including Delhi which has received 2,74,000 doses of vaccine, followed by Maharashtra receiving over 9 lakh doses and Andhra Pradesh around with 4.7 lakh doses.
(With ANI inputs)