Reena Jani got up early, finished her chores in the freezing cold of January, and walked uphill to the road past her isolated tribal hamlet of Pendajam in Odisha state, eastern Georgia. ‘India.
Riding on a neighbor’s motorbike for 40 minutes through hills dotted with rice paddies, the 34-year-old health worker headed to the Mathalput community health center.
Jani’s name was on a list of 100 health workers at the center, making her one of the first Indian women to be vaccinated against COVID-19 earlier this month, as the country rolled out a vaccination program the government qualifies as largest in the world.
But she had heard rumors of serious side effects and worried about what would happen if she got sick.
“I was scared because of my son and my daughters. If something happens to me, what will they do? Jani told Reuters news agency, visibly relieved after the injection produced no immediate side effects.
The vaccine she received traveled much further. It was transported by plane, truck and van, about 1,700 km (1,056 miles) from the factory to the clinic where Jani waited, and had to be kept cold the entire way.
The 1.5 million people vaccinated so far, mainly targeting key workers like Jani, are a tiny first phase of a vaccination program that India hopes will ultimately protect its 1.4 billion people. people against the coronavirus.
It is only when the third phase, much larger, intended for 270 million people deemed vulnerable, is launched, that the government will know whether its plan to distribute shots in sometimes hostile terrain and in temperatures high will succeed.
“The problem will start from the third phase, when the public starts to come,” said Madhusudan Mishra, the collector of Koraput district. “It will be a real challenge.”
Providing vaccines is one thing. Convincing people to take them is another.
Skepticism about the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 injections is high in India, especially in rural areas, officials say, and misinformation via social media platforms and word-of-mouth could undermine the effort.
The COVID-19 vaccine Jani took was developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford. India also uses another developed by Bharat Biotech.
The deployment comes as the number of coronavirus cases in India approached 11 million and deaths exceeded 150,000.