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India hails ‘life saving’ Covid-19 vaccine rollout, but concerns remain about homegrown shot

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A medical worker (L) registers the details of his colleague for a Covid-19 vaccine at the Institute of Kidney Diseases and Research Centre (IKDRC) in Ahmedabad on January 16. — AFP
Medical workers wait to be inoculated with a Covid-19 vaccine at a hospital in Allahabad on Saturday. — AFP
A medical worker (L) registers the details of his colleague for a Covid-19 vaccine at the Institute of Kidney Diseases and Research Centre (IKDRC) in Ahmedabad on January 16. — AFP
India’s Covid-19 vaccination drive had a successful start with more than 190,000 people receiving their first jabs and no one hospitalised for major side effects, the health ministry said, but reports emerged about concerns over the homegrown vaccine.

Authorities have given emergency-use approval for two vaccines — Oxford-AstraZeneca and the homegrown “Covaxin”, which has yet to complete its Phase 3 trials — and plans to immunise some 300 million people in the country of 1.3 billion by July.

Frontline workers such as hospital staff, people over 50 and those deemed to be at high risk due to pre-existing medical conditions are on the shortlist to receive the vaccines.

“We have got encouraging and satisfactory feedback results on the first day,” Health Minister Harsh Vardhan told his state counterparts on Saturday.

“This vaccine will indeed be a ‘Sanjeevani’ (lifesaver)” in the fight against the virus, he added.

The health ministry said “no case of post-vaccination hospitalisation” had been reported, although local media said a security guard at the country’s top-ranked public hospital, the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in Delhi, had developed an allergic reaction shortly after getting his shot.

A doctors’ representative body at the Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital in New Delhi wrote a letter asking for the Oxford-AstraZeneca “Covishield” vaccine to be supplied instead of Covaxin to allay any fears.

“The residents are a bit apprehensive about the lack of complete trial in case of Covaxin and might not participate in huge numbers thus defeating the purpose of vaccination,” said the letter addressing the hospital’s medical superintendent, seen by AFP.

“We request you to vaccinate us with Covishield, which has completed all stages of trial before its rollout.”

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