New Delhi/Kolkata/Lucknow/Srinagar/Mumbai: For nearly a year, calling anyone meant having to listen to the message of caution on Covid-19. But Saturday morning, the caller tune message in phones changed to that of hope — ‘vaccine brings a new ray of hope’ this new year.
Images of blue ice boxes — storing the most awaited vaccines — are likely to bring closure to a year of trauma. Even as doubts linger over lack of efficacy data of India’s home-grown Covaxin, a sense of relief was palpable among the beneficiaries.
India’s active case count is already declining. This morning, the number of active cases stood at 2,11,033 — the lowest it has been since June. However, large-scale vaccination is expected to help the country achieve herd immunity and avoid a potential second wave of infections that has been seen in countries like the US and Spain.
New Delhi woke up to a dense fog, but at Rajiv Gandhi Super Speciality Hospital, the warmth of hope lingered, where about 60 healthcare workers, sanitation and security staff gathered outside the vaccination centre.
These frontline workers are going to be the first to get the Covishield — the vaccine manufactured by the Serum Institute of India — in the national capital.
Lata Tomar, a 47-year-old nursing orderly, told ThePrint, “I’m happy that frontline workers are getting the vaccine first.”
Saroj Maheshwari, a nursing orderly who along with her entire family tested positive in June, said it is time to take a breath of relief.
“With the vaccine, we feel relieved. My family is still reeling from the aftermath of the disease. We feel hopeful now. If we are healthy only then we will be able to take care of our patients,” she said.
Triveni, another nurse at the hospital, has no doubts about the efficacy of the vaccine.
“I am happy that it has come to us first. I am confident, that we will be cured. We have trust in our scientists that they have created something effective and trustworthy,” she added.
Meanwhile, Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan arrived at AIIMS at 10.30 am to take stock of the preparation of the vaccination programme and oversaw the administration of the first shot of the vaccine to a healthcare worker.
Both AIIMS director Dr Randeep Guleria and NITI Aayog member Dr V.K. Paul took the vaccine shot at AIIMS.
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the vaccination programme with chants of ‘Sarve Bhavantu Sukhinah’ (may everyone be happy), about 18-20 healthcare workers were seated in the waiting room of the vaccination centre at Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Narayan Hospital (LNJP) to get the shot. Beneficiaries entering the centre, which has received doses of Covishield, were given red roses.
Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal arrived at the LNJP Hospital around noon to interact with the beneficiaries.
A health worker, who was deputed on duty at the centre, told ThePrint, “So far we haven’t seen anyone witness any discomfort after being administered the vaccine.”
Dr Sanjay Pandit, nodal officer for vaccination at the hospital, said, “Things have been peaceful so far. The health workers are in high spirit as of now, including the nurse who got the first shot.”
Biji Toni, a nurse with the oncology department at the hospital, was the first to get the Covishield shot, followed by Dr Puneet Jaitley from the chief district medical office in Delhi’s central district.
In Maharashtra, 28,500 frontline workers are expected to be vaccinated across 285 centres on the first day.
At Mumbai’s Cooper Hospital, one of the two sites in Maharashtra where PM Modi’s webcast was shown, healthcare workers broke into applause as the vaccine doses reached there Saturday morning.
At the hospital, the person holding the ‘number 1’ beneficiary token was Shiv Sena leader and former health minister, Deepak Sawant. The second in line was his wife, Anita Sawant. Both are doctors by qualification.
Cooper is one of Mumbai’s largest vaccination sites, and one that the city’s civic body is projecting as a ‘model vaccination centre’.
Speaking to reporters, Sawant said, “I am very thankful to the Hon. PM Narendra Modi ji and our CM Uddhav saheb Thackeray for making this drive possible. I am honoured to be the first one to get the vaccination dose and thankful to everyone here at Cooper Hospital. There is no reason to worry while taking this vaccine. This kind of fear comes before every major vaccination drive. It is perfectly fine.”
His wife added, “After ten months, this auspicious day has come after Makar Sankranti. I know how much home-makers have had to struggle during this whole period.”
In Jammu and Kashmir, around 1.06 lakh health workers will receive the vaccine doses. The first batch of 1.5 lakh doses arrived in the union territory last week.
Around 4,500 vaccinators have been trained, who will be administering the doses for the first phase.
There are 27 centres across J&K in the first phase and a team of minimum five people, including two vaccinators, are available at each centre. On the first day of vaccination, each centre is expecting to receive a minimum of 100 beneficiaries.
Among the first persons to get the vaccine at the Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Science (SKIMS), which is one of the designated vaccine centres, was the director of the institute Dr A.G. Ahangar.
As soon as Dr Ahangar took his shots, he was welcomed by claps and cheers at the auditorium.
After his vaccination, R.R. Bhatnagar, advisor to L-G Manoj Sinha, Srinagar Mayor Junaid Matoo and District Magistrate Shahid Chaudhary received the doses.
“From a facility of two-bed ventilators, we had to expand to over 300 beds. Everything was scary to begin with…,” said Ahangar.
Outside the auditorium was Bashir Ahmed Khan, a resident of South Kashmir’s Kulgam area. The 59-year-old catering supervisor in SKIMS’ diabetes department told ThePrint that although he was advised by many not to take the vaccines, he chose to do otherwise.
“Even my parents advised against it. I understand that there is fear, but this is our only option. It is natural to be afraid, that’s how people react to new things. But I ask all people to come forward and take the vaccination,” Khan told ThePrint.
Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal
Over 31,700 health workers across Uttar Pradesh’s 75 districts will get vaccinated on the first day.
According to health officials, 317 sessions of the immunisation will be held at 311 centres. The state has so far received over one million vaccine doses against 1.1 million sought for the first phase.
Additional Chief Secretary (health and family welfare) Amit Mohan Prasad said the first phase vaccination is to be largely organised in government hospitals, health centres, primary health centres, district hospitals, district women’s hospitals, urban health centres, government and private medical colleges.
A health worker at King George Medical College, one of the centres in Lucknow, said, “We are ready for the vaccination. It’s the first day, so we are excited but nervous too.”
“All preparations have been done. I want to get vaccinated because I worked throughout this Covid phase,” he said.
As many as 1,200 health workers would be vaccinated at 12 centres in Lucknow Saturday.
Chief Minister Yogi Aditynath visited Balrampur hospital in the afternoon for inspection.
Meanwhile, West Bengal has identified 44,000 vaccinators and more than 4,000 vaccine sites across the state for the first phase.
At the AMRI hospital in south Kolkata, healthcare workers were seen unpacking the blue storage box in the morning to reveal a bundle of vaccine vials with a sense of excitement on their faces.
Telangana and Andhra Pradesh
In both Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, the first shots of vaccine were administered to women — both of whom were sanitation workers.
Over 140 centres in Telangana will vaccinate 30 people each. Security arrangements have been stepped up at all centres since they are being visited by political leaders.
The observation room, where volunteers are being monitored for 30 minutes after they get the vaccine shot, have TV and music set-up for some light entertainment.
“I am proud of myself that I am one of the first people to get vaccinated. No one talks about ASHA workers and how much risk we are at because we mingle with everyone. The vaccine gives me hope that it is going to get better,” said 31-year-old ASHA worker, Padma, who was the first to be vaccinated at PAUL DOSS Maternity Hospital in Hyderabad.
There were, however, some healthcare workers at the centre who had apprehensions about taking the vaccine, leading to authorities there to look for new volunteers at the last moment.
In Bengaluru’s Sir C.V. Ramanagar General Hospital, the mood was sombre initially as it appeared that there were not many takers for the vaccine among the frontline workers.
But, as PM Modi ended his inaugural speech, which was telecast live at the entrance of the hospital, the number of medical staff members, seated in two rows in the corridor of the second floor of the building, slowly increased.
The first recipient was Thiagaraj B, the cook at the hospital, who had cooked and delivered food to all Covid patients at the hospital.
“I was very scared all these months. Even this morning, I was apprehensive. Then when I went up and registered, I felt more confident after seeing my other colleagues, who were so enthusiastic. They gave me strength. Even the hospital superintendent patted me on my back and asked if I had BP or any other ailment. After the vaccine, I feel healthy as I was when I walked into the hospital,” Thiagaraj told ThePrint.
Dr Bhanumurthy, Joint Director, Communicable Diseases, Karnataka, said the side-effects of taking any vaccine are very minor like mild fever.
“We have also taken enough precautions in terms of side-effects. Most of the people taking it are quite happy and they know that adequate precautions have been taken and the health workers are quite enthusiastic.”
(With inputs from Mohana Basu, Prashant Srivastava, Manasi Phadke, Madhuparna Das, Azaan Javaid, Rishika Sadam and Rohini Swamy).