Vaccination drive hailed as decisive moment in fight against COVID-19

Doctors and health workers show victory signs as they pose for a photograph at RML Hospital, after the launch of the COVID-19 vaccination drive by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in New Delhi, Saturday. Photograph: Atul Yadav/PTI Photo
Doctors and health workers show victory signs as they pose for a photograph at RML Hospital, after the launch of the COVID-19 vaccination drive by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in New Delhi, Saturday. Photograph: Atul Yadav/PTI Photo

New Delhi, January 17 (PTI): Loud applause and cheers rang out as the first jabs were administered to frontline workers at hospitals and healthcare centres across the country on Saturday at the start of the gargantuan COVID-19 vaccination exercise, hailed as a 'momentous' occasion in India's fight against the pandemic.

"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.

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 as a sense of hope prevailed over the months of anxiety and uncertainty as well as any apprehensions about the vaccines.

Doctors, nurses, sanitation workers and eminent functionaries were among the nearly two lakh people who received the shots on the first day of the biggest COVID-19 vaccination drive in the world at 3,351 session sites, which were visited by chief ministers, ministers and senior officials.

For many health workers like Jalpa Gandhi, a nurse at the Ahmedabad civil hospital, there was finally some comfort as they recalled the difficult months spent during the coronavirus pandemic with gnawing 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 March 22, 2020, when the first coronavirus patient in the state was admitted to the civil hospital.

Political leaders, experts and prominent people from all walks of life urged the people not to believe in any misleading claims.

"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," said 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 Edappadi K Palaniswami and his cabinet colleagues.

S Krishnamma, a woman sanitation worker, was administered the first shot amid cheers by those present at the Gandhi Hospital in Hyderabad after Prime Minister Narendra Modi's address to the nation on the occasion of the vaccine roll-out.

Krishnamma said 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 to protect their health.

"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," Dr Thacker said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other leaders hailed the corona warriors and remembered those who lost their lives in the pandemic since January last year.

Striking an emotional chord, Modi 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.

In a choked voice, the prime minister 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.

Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said it was an epoch-making moment for India that will take 'us closer to ending this pandemic'.

Unicef India tweeted: 'A big moment for India as it starts the #LargestVaccineDrive today!'

Manish Kumar, a sanitation worker, became the first person in the national capital to be administered a COVID-19 vaccine during the launch of the drive at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in the presence of Vardhan.

As people around applauded, All India Institute of Medical Sciences Director Randeep Guleria also received a shot of the vaccine followed by NITI Aayog member V K Paul.

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".

Vardhan said the two vaccines were a 'sanjivani', life infusing, in the fight against the 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.

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'.

A G Ahangar -- the director of the SKIMS, the premier tertiary care hospital in Srinagar -- received the first shot at the centre, State Immunisation Officer Qazi Haroon said.

A lot of doctors, including heads of institutions, several heads of departments and chief medical officers of various districts, received the jabs to boost confidence in the vaccination process, according to Haroon.

Cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar compared the fight against COVID-19 to the last Test match against Australia, saying there were 'lots of ups and downs' but the frontline warriors took many blows and ensured that the team wouldn't collapse.

Taking to Twitter, Bollywood celebrities applauded the scientists and doctors for their achievement.

'#LargestVaccineDrive Thanks to all the scientists and Doctors and Health care workers Thanks @narendramodi,' veteran actor-politician Paresh Rawal tweeted.

'Bravo India! Congratulations to Indian authorities, medical & health teams for starting off the massive Covid vaccination drive.

'Forever grateful to our frontline heroes who have been risking their lives this past year to save others,' actor Priyanka Chopra said.

The two vaccines being administered are Covishield, developed by Oxford University and British-Swedish company AstraZeneca and manufactured by the Pune-based Serum Institute of India (SII), and Covaxin, developed by Bharat Biotech, Hyderabad.

SII CEO Adar 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.

Raja Chowdhury, a Group D staff at the state-run SSKM Hospital in Kolkata, was given the first dose of Covishield in West Bengal as the inoculation exercise started in the presence of Urban Development Minister Firhad Hakim, an official said.

"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.

Hakim said the country is finally coming out of the pandemic.

"Today is a big day for us. It seems we are slowly coming out of the pandemic, which has claimed so many lives. We were in a state of depression for the last one year. From today, we will again relive our lives," he said.

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."

Asha Pawar, 55, who receives the vaccine at Maharaja Yeshwantrao (MY) Hospital in Indore, Madhya Pradesh, said she had no apprehensions about the safety of the vaccine and hoped that it will prove helpful in saving lives.

"There was an atmosphere of fear during the outbreak of the epidemic in Indore. But now, after getting this vaccine, I have no fear and I feel very good," said Pawar and flashed the victory sign.

Haridev Yadav, a security guard, received the vaccine at Bhopal's JP Hospital vaccination centre.

"People should not fear this vaccine and participate in this drive to fight against coronavirus," Yadav said after he was presented a bouquet by senior officials of the state health department.

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 Prime Minister Narendra Modi's leadership.