Healthcare workers at the frontline of India’s COVID-19 battle got their first jabs on Saturday with Prime Minister Narendra Modi launching the world’s largest vaccination drive against the pandemic, showing the light at the end of a 10-month tunnel that upended millions of lives and livelihoods.
More than one crore cases and 1.5 lakh fatalities later, India took its first steps out of the pandemic with shots of the Covishield and Covaxin vaccines being administered at medical centres across the country to a collective sigh of relief that this could finally be the beginning of the end of the COVID-19 trauma.
Along with healthcare workers, others such as AIIMS director Randeep Guleria, NITI Aayog member VK Paul, who is also head of an empowered group on medical equipment and management plan to tackle coronavirus outbreak, BJP MP Mahesh Sharma and West Bengal minister Nirmal Maji also received their first shot of the two-dose vaccine.
Addressing the nation ahead of the launch, the prime minister reminded people that two doses of the vaccine are very important and asked them to continue with masks and social distancing even after receiving the jabs.
Reassuring people that emergency use authorisation was given to the two 'made in India' vaccines only after scientists were convinced of their safety and effectiveness, he said the vaccines will ensure a decisive victory for the country over the coronavirus pandemic, he said. “Dawaai bhi, kadaai bhi,” Modi said, asking people to guard against complacency and follow COVID-19 appropriate behaviour.
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.
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.