A sanitation worker became the first Indian to receive a Covid vaccine as the country began the world’s largest inoculation drive.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the programme, which aims to vaccinate more than 1.3 billion people against Covid.
He paid tribute to front-line workers who will be the first to receive jabs.
India has recorded the second-highest number of Covid-19 infections in the world after the United States.
Millions of doses of two approved vaccines – Covishield and Covaxin – were shipped across the country in the days leading up to the start of the drive.
“We are launching the world’s biggest vaccination drive and it shows the world our capability,” Mr Modi, said, addressing the country on Saturday morning.
He added that India was well prepared to vaccinate its population with the help of an app, which would help the government track the drive and ensure that nobody was left out.
Mr Modi spoke at length about doctors, nurses and other front-line workers “who showed us the light” in “dark times”.
“They stayed away from their families to serve humanity. And hundreds of them never went home. They gave their life to save others. And that is why the first jabs are being given to healthcare workers – this is our way of paying respect to them.”
At the scene
Doctors and medical staff at Delhi’s Max hospital tell me a lot of hope is being pinned on the vaccination drive. One official described it “as a new dawn” and said “it’s the beginning of Covid’s end”.
Inside the waiting room, there are posters on the wall with information about the documents one needs to bring, how safe the vaccine is, and the precautions that need to be taken even after one’s been vaccinated. Among those being vaccinated on Saturday are doctors, nurses and front-office staff from all departments.
The names have been been chosen alphabetically so those getting jabs are mostly those with names starting with the letter A.
“The pandemic has played havoc in the country. I hope the vaccine will rid us of the fears and we will be able to breathe easy,” Dr Anil Dass said after getting the jab.
Ashutosh Chaturvedi, a 31-year-old male nurse described as a “Covid warrior” by hospital officials, became the first recipient of the vaccine at Max.
“I’m fine, I feel good,” he told reporters as he came down the hospital ramp, which has been decorated with blue, green and white balloons.
Since April, he told me, he’s worked in the emergency wing of the Covid ward, tending to those afflicted with the coronavirus.
“I haven’t seen my wife and nine-month-old daughter since then. A month later, once I’ve received the second dose, I’ll visit my family,” he said.
Mr Modi also appealed to people to continue adhering to Covid-19 safety protocols like wearing masks and following social distancing. He said the country cannot afford to be complacent as vaccinating the entire population will take time.
He also urged people not to believe any “propaganda and rumours about the safety of the vaccines”.
“I want to tell people that the approval to these vaccines was given only after scientists and experts were satisfied about its safety,” he said.
An estimated 10 million health workers will be vaccinated in the first round, followed by policemen, soldiers, municipal and other front-line workers.
Next in line will be people aged over 50 and anyone under 50 with serious underlying health conditions. India’s electoral rolls, which contain details of some 900 million voters, will be used to identify eligible recipients.
The government plans to vaccinate 300 million people by early August. This will happen in state-run health care centres, schools, colleges, community halls, municipal offices and wedding halls.
Several hospitals across India are giving the first doses of the vaccine.