Narendra Modi has launched one of the world’s most ambitious inoculation campaigns amid growing vaccine skepticism over the controversial approval of a locally developed vaccine.
The Indian Prime Minister kicked off the campaign with a moving speech live on Saturday, saying that “the nation is desperately waiting for this moment” and warned of “false propaganda” on vaccine safety.
India, a country of 1.4 billion people, has the second highest number of coronavirus infections in the world with 10.5 million. The lockdowns have had a limited effect in controlling the spread of the virus and contact tracing has failed, making a successful vaccination program essential. The first phase of the vaccination rollout targets 30 million health and frontline workers, with a goal of vaccinating 300 million people by July.
The outcome of this campaign will determine whether India can instill confidence in an economy that has struggled to recover from one of the world’s most severe and disruptive lockdowns. After a grueling recession, growth remains lukewarm and millions of Indians have been plunged into poverty.
At a Max Healthcare hospital in Saket, a district of New Delhi, Chacko, a 42-year-old nurse in the emergency department in mint green scrubs said he was “happy to be the first to take the picture. It will change our lives. “
But New Delhi’s approval of Covaxin, a vaccine developed by Hyderabad Bharat Biotech, before data from the Phase 3 trial was released, was criticized by health experts and fueled skepticism about vaccines. A poll this month by pollster Local Circles found that 69% of respondents were reluctant to receive a blow.
“I think it’s impossible to develop a vaccine in a year,” said Ravi Agarwal, 45, who runs a small tobacco and candy kiosk in New Delhi. “My son has a blood disease. If they ask me to vaccinate him, I would be very worried.
As was the case with Russian and Chinese vaccines, Covaxin was ramped up without completing Phase 3 trials. Experts say growing doubt surrounding the vaccine, developed in partnership with the Indian government, risks undermining the vaccination campaign.
Some states are already pushing back: the Minister of Health of Chhattisgarh, for example, refused to accept Covaxin until the end of phase 3 trials.
“What the Indian regulators have done is bring us down to the level of Russia and China,” said Dinesh Thakur, a former pharmaceutical industry executive in India who now works as a public health activist in the United States. United States.
“India has never had an anti-vax movement until now,” he said. “The country has overcome polio and smallpox, people are compliant. But this shady process has given birth to anti-vaxxers.
Civil society activists say Bharat Biotech failed to follow proper guidelines at a Phase 3 trial study site in Bhopal, a town in central Madhya Pradesh, where a trial volunteer died in December.
Jitendra Narwaria, a 37-year-old sawmill worker, was shot in December. “They said free medicine was being offered to cure our coughs and colds,” said Narwaria, who was given Rs750 ($ 10) for taking the vaccine.
Like other test subjects, Mr Narwaria said he suffered from side effects. “A few days later, I started to vomit and also felt very weak. I went back to the hospital but no one listened to me and I went home, ”he said.
“We have not received the full information. If they had told us it was for corona, I would have said no.
Bharat Biotech said it is conducting clinical trials “in accordance with the study protocol” and “the emphasis is on patient safety at all times.” The company said the death in December was unrelated to the trial.
Krishna Ella, president and CEO of Bharat Biotech, has dismissed criticism of the vaccine. In an interview with India Today TV this week, Mr Ella said he wouldn’t mind giving the vaccine to his six-year-old grandson, although the jab has yet to be approved for children.
Leaving aside domestic controversy, Modi hailed the vaccine as a triumph of Indian science and its self-sufficient “Make in India” policy. His government is also taking advantage of the country’s vast manufacturing capacity to supply projectiles to developing countries.
On Tuesday, Bharat Biotech announced that it had signed an agreement to supply vaccines to Precisa Medicamentos, a Brazilian pharmaceutical company. The Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer, has entered into a contract with the UN-backed vaccine alliance, Gavi, to provide 200 million doses of the Oxford / AstraZeneca vaccine.
In New Delhi, healthcare workers greeted the vaccine with relief. At Max Healthcare Hospital, staff were recovering from the city’s third and deadliest wave of coronavirus cases in November after festival season. Officials warn against complacency, even as the number of active cases in the capital region has fallen from a high of more than 40,000 to less than 3,000.
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“The only end of the pandemic is the masks and the vaccination,” said Dr Sandeep Budhiraja, the group’s medical director at the hospital.
“Delhi is probably out of the worst, but there’s no way to rule out a next wave. Look at what’s going on in the UK. It can happen anywhere in the world. “