The start of India’s Covid-19 vaccination campaign on Saturday was a success with more than 190,000 people given a dose, India’s Ministry of Health said, but one of the vaccines used is causing the concern of part of the population.
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The second most populous nation on the planet plans to vaccinate 300 million people, almost the size of the US population, by July, as part of one of the world’s largest vaccination campaigns.
This is based on two vaccines: Covaxin developed by Bharat Biotech and the Indian Council for Medical Research; and Covishield, the version developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford. Both produced by the Serum Institute of India and approved “urgently” in early January.
“We had encouraging and satisfactory feedback on day one,” Indian Health Minister Harsh Vardhan told his counterparts in the Indian states on Saturday.
“This vaccine will indeed be a ‘Sanjeevani’ (saver of lives),” he added.
India is the second most affected country – after the United States – by Covid-19, with more than 10 million reported cases, although officially the death rate is one of the lowest in the world.
The 30 million healthcare workers and those most exposed to the disease will be the first to be vaccinated, followed by around 270 million people over 50 or particularly vulnerable.
The ministry said there were no “post-vaccination hospitalizations” reported, but local media claimed that a security officer from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), the main public hospital from the country, had developed an allergic reaction right after receiving his injection.
An organization representing doctors from Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital in New Delhi has for its part written a letter asking that the “Covishield” of Oxford-AstraZeneca be used exclusively, rather than Covaxin, to allay concerns about this vaccine which does not has not completed its Phase 3 trials.
“People are a little worried that the Covaxin trials have not been completed and may not participate in numbers, which risks undermining the purpose of the vaccination,” he said in a letter seen by AFP.
“We ask you to vaccinate us with the ‘Covishield’ which has completed all tests before its deployment.”
Concerns about vaccines are widespread in India. A recent survey of 18,000 people showed that 69% of people were in no rush to get the vaccine.