FIRST SHOT
Down To Earth|February 01, 2021
The death of eight people and hesitancy among health workers mar the first phase of India’s vaccination drive against COVID-19
BANJOT KAUR

BY EXIGENCY and expectation, it was a day of reckoning. On January 16, India launched its first phase of vaccination for COVID-19. With two vaccines—Covaxin, manufactured by Bharat Biotech International Ltd, and Covishield, developed by the Oxford University and AstraZeneca—this phase was supposed to cover some 30 million healthcare and frontline workers. Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the drive. He declared the day as the beginning of the end of COVID-19. And, as expected, he also celebrated it as an Indian accomplishment. “There are more than 100 countries having a population of less than three crore (30 million) and India is administering vaccination to three crore people in the first phase only,” he said.

But the prologue and epilogue to this day is jarring. Just two days before the Indian vaccination drive began, Norway reported 23 deaths related to its COVID-19 vaccination drive. Later in Israel, 13 people developed facial paralysis after getting vaccinated. By the time the first batch of healthcare workers were ready to take the jab across India, reports of hesitancy poured in. In Bihar, healthcare workers of three big medical colleges went on record saying that the vaccination drive had been marred. In Assam, Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHA) workers said they did not want to become guinea pigs. Similar reports came from Jammu and Kashmir, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Haryana.

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