India aims to start vaccinating its 1.3 billion people against the coronavirus from Saturday, a colossal and complex task made worse by security concerns, fragile infrastructure and public skepticism.
In one of the largest deployments in the world, the world’s second most populous country hopes to vaccinate 300 million people – almost the population of the United States – by July.
The first to get one of the two “emergency approved” vaccines will be 30 million healthcare and other frontline workers, followed by around 270 million people over the age of 50 or deemed to be at high risk in the world. all the countries.
On January 16, India takes a decisive step in the fight against COVID-19. From this day, India’s national vaccination campaign begins. Priority will be given to our courageous doctors, healthcare workers, frontline workers, including Safai Karamcharis. https://t.co/P5Arw64wVt
– Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) January 9, 2021
About 150,000 staff from 700 districts have been specially trained, and India has organized several national trials involving mock vaccine transport and dummy injections.
The authorities will use the experience of holding elections in the world’s largest democracy and regular programs to immunize children against polio and tuberculosis.
But in a huge, poor country with often poor transport networks and one of the least funded health systems in the world, the business is still daunting.
Regular childhood vaccinations are a “much smaller game” and vaccination against COVID-19 will be “deeply difficult,” said Satyajit Rath of the National Institute of Immunology.
The two vaccines approved by India – the University of Oxford and Covishield from AstraZeneca, manufactured by local partner Serum Institute of India, and Covaxin from Bharat Biotech – should be kept in the refrigerator at all times.
A total of 29,000 cold chain points, 240 cold rooms, 70 freezers, 45,000 ice-lined refrigerators, 41,000 freezers and 300 solar refrigerators are ready.
India has four “mega depots” to take delivery of vaccines and transport them to state distribution centers in temperature-controlled vans, but the last step will be difficult.
During a recent exercise in rural Uttar Pradesh – where summer temperatures exceed 40 degrees Celsius (105 Fahrenheit) – a health worker was pictured carrying boxes of dummy vials on his bicycle.
In Indian-administered Kashmir, which is currently hit by snowstorms, databases of priority groups – and staff responsible for administering vaccines – were still under preparation last week, officials said.
In the last dry run on Friday, workers at a health center in Bangalore had to use a cell phone hotspot to connect online because their network was down.
There are also concerns about the government’s goal of managing the entire process digitally through its own app, CoWIN, of which there are already several fake versions.
On Monday, it was also unclear whether the government had yet agreed to a price per jab with the Serum Institute.
Tens of millions of gunshots are believed to be in the Serum factory in western Pune, awaiting a deal before a fleet of refrigerated trucks can take them to the airport.
More than 150,000 Indians have died from COVID-19 and the economy is one of the worst affected in the world, with millions losing their livelihoods.
“I can’t wait to get the vaccine and live fearless and maskless all the time,” Shatrughan Sharma, 43, a migrant worker in New Delhi, told AFP. “The last year has been very difficult for us.”
But like in other countries, there is skepticism about the vaccine, fueled by a torrent of misinformation online.
A recent survey of 18,000 people across India found that 69% were in no rush to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
Public confidence has not been helped by the fact that Bharat Biotech’s native vaccine has been controversial with “limited approval” with no data from phase three human trials.
Serum’s plans to sell the AstraZeneca jab privately to Indian individuals and businesses for 1,000 rupees ($ 14) have also raised concerns that the wealthy will be vaccinated sooner.
“There will be a long wait for poor people like me, because the rich and the better-off will get there first,” Suresh Paswan, a rickshaw puller in Patna, eastern Bihar province, told AFP. .