Hailing the work of healthcare, frontline workers and scientists who, at great personal risk during the pandemic, “brought hope in an atmosphere of dejection”, Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the world’s largest Covid-19 immunisation drive Saturday as the country began vaccinating an estimated 3-crore priority group with “two Made-in-India vaccines” in the first phase of an exercise that aims to eventually vaccinate 30 crore people.
In a televised address during the launch, in which he made fervent appeals and turned emotional while recalling the “nation’s debt” to “those who never returned home” and “sacrificed their own lives trying to save each and every life”, the Prime Minister underlined that people must not lower their guard even after vaccination. He said the country must steel its resolve to deal with the pandemic as it did during the lockdown last year.
He urged people not to abandon masks, social distancing and hygiene precautions, saying they have to remain vigilant and their mantra must be “dawai bhi, kadai bhi” (get vaccinated, but take every precaution).
Describing the scale of the vaccine rollout – Serum Institute of India’s Covishield and Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin were being administered Saturday to 100 beneficiaries from the priority group at each of the 3006 vaccination sites across the country — as “unprecedented in the history of mankind”, Modi praised the role of doctors, nurses, paramedical staff, ambulance drivers, ASHA workers, sanitation workers, police personnel, firefighters and other frontline workers. He said the efforts of the scientific community to develop the vaccine in record time is “living proof of India’s strength, India’s scientific skills, India’s talent”.
“Our medical system, the scientists developing these vaccines have built their credibility over the years. We have gained this trust because of our track record… About 60 per cent of children around the world get life-saving vaccines that are made in India,” he said.
“The world’s trust in our scientists and our vaccine expertise is going to strengthen further with the introduction of the Made-in-India corona vaccines,” he said.
People of the country, he said, have paid a great price and learned a lot during the pandemic. “In normal times, everyone in the family gathers to take care of a person who has taken ill. But this sickness has left the ill very alone. At many places, mothers had to stay away from children who had taken ill. Mothers were very troubled, they wept, but could not hold their children in laps. Elderly fathers had to struggle alone in hospitals, their children unable to be with them. The ones who left us could not be given the final farewell with traditional rituals, which was their right. The more we think of those times, it terrifies, saddens us,” he said.
He quoted Telugu playwright-poet Gurajada Apparao to make the point that a country is not about “soil, water, pebbles and rocks” but about “our people” and “collective resolve” as demonstrated in the fight against the pandemic.
He said the “scale of the vaccination campaign” in India has never been attempted in history. “This shows India’s capability… in the first round itself, 3 crore people – and there are over 100 countries with a population less than 3 crore — are being vaccinated… this needs to be taken up to 30 crore in the second round when the elderly and people with serious co-morbidities will be vaccinated… there are only three countries — India, US and China — with a population more than 30 crore,” he said.
The Prime Minister said that as the country rolls out its vaccination drive, “the world is looking at India with hope”.
“As our immunisation campaign progresses, many countries of the world will benefit from our experience. India’s vaccines, our production capacity are for the benefit of mankind, this is our commitment,” he said.
He said the price of the Indian vaccine is very affordable compared to foreign vaccines. “They are not only cheaper than foreign vaccines, but are also simpler to administer. Some foreign vaccines are priced up to Rs 5,000 per dose and have to be stored in minus 70 degree temperature. Whereas Indian vaccines are based on technology that has been tried and tested for many years in India. From storage to transportation, these vaccines are suitable for Indian conditions.”
He said the vaccination campaign will continue for a “long time” and people should not fall prey to rumours
“Our scientists, our experts gave permission for emergency use only after they were satisfied about the safety and effectiveness of the Made-in-India vaccine. Therefore, people of the country have to stay away from rumours and false propaganda,” he said, urging “more volunteers” to participate in the drive.
He told beneficiaries that they have to return for the second dose. “You cannot take only one dose and then forget; don’t make such a mistake. And as the experts are saying, between the first and second doses, a gap of about one month will be kept. You have to remember that only two weeks after the second dose, your body will develop the necessary strength against corona,” he said.