Narendra Modi urged Indians to walk on the path of unity led by Sardar Patel, who once rightly said, "Manpower without unity is not strength unless it is harmonized and united properly, then it becomes a spiritual power," when he launched the world's largest vaccination drive on January 16. As India prepared itself to vaccinate its citizens, there were several sceptics who were quick to point out that the attempts to launch a vaccine programme in India would be fraught with corruption, underhand dealing and overpricing. Some even thought there could be a vaccine black market and a lack of transparency in the entire process.
I can say this with great pride and happiness that after two months of the vaccination drive, India has successfully administered 29.74 million doses as of 15 March, and around 24.31 million people have received their first vaccine dose. This means that roughly 1.26 million doses are administered every day. This data alone signifies that the vaccination programme in the world's largest democracy has been a huge success. As per the latest reports from the Union Health Ministry, more than 10 million beneficiaries aged over 60 years were covered within a span of just 15 days. India's inoculation drive is now the second largest in the world, ahead of the UK.
The government aims to utilise up to 500 million doses to provide jabs to 250 million-strong priority group, at least by the end of July. In the first phase, healthcare and frontline workers were prioritised—18 days since the drive was launched, the government was able to vaccinate more than 4.1 million workers with the first dose. As many as 10 million people above 60 years of age have got the first dose of the vaccine within 15 days of the launch of the second phase.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's decision to take the vaccine on March 1 to kick-start the next step in the vaccination drive proved to be hugely beneficial in curbing the fake propaganda being spread by the anti-vaxxers and encouraging people to get vaccinated. This further gave a boost to the vaccination drive and proved critical in eradicating the fear over the safety procedure and hygiene standards.
Many people also raised concerns over the safety of the indigenous Covid-19 vaccine, Covaxin, developed by Bharat Biotech. Those concerns were finally laid to rest as the Phase-3 trial results demonstrate 81 per cent efficacy rate. Prime Minister Modi and External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar were administered a jab of Covaxin, which gave a sense of confidence to those wary of it.
The relatively lucid and straight forward procedure to get the vaccine dose has, in my opinion, hugely ensured the success of the drive. A well thought-out plan and an effective system in place are the main reasons for the smooth functioning of the vaccination drive, which is otherwise a daunting and challenging exercise.
In my city, Surat, the municipal corporation has administered roughly 56,950 doses of vaccine to healthcare workers and around 36,336 to frontline workers. Another 60,384 doses have been administered to citizens above 60 years of age and 11,481 jabs to those above 45 with co-morbidities. In my personal visits to health centres and the civic hospital, people had a positive mindset towards the vaccine drive and expressed relief after receiving the jab.
India's global standing in the world has got a boost through its vaccine diplomacy. As the world's largest vaccine manufacturer, we have sent as many as 58.6 million doses to 71 countries in 55 days. Following a truly international approach, the Indian government has provided free of cost vaccines to its neighbours as a "goodwill" gesture. Nearly 9 million doses were sent as gift, while 16.52 million doses have been delivered as part of the Covax mechanism under the aegis of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation. Saudi Arabia, Morocco and Brazil are a few countries which have got vaccines while the rest of the world scrambles for vaccine supplies. This also strengthened our position against China and paved the way for India becoming a superpower.
Indian vaccine diplomacy is what led to the Quad vaccine initiative. The vaccine diplomacy will see further push in the coming months and nations in need of vaccines can soon get more doses as India's Gland Pharma prepares to produce and supply 252 million doses of Russia's Sputnik V vaccine. The Russian vaccine has an efficacy rate of 91.6 per cent.
The affordability of the vaccine, Rs 250 at private clinics and hospitals and free of cost at state-run health centres, has massively contributed to India's triumph in the vaccination campaign. The government's generous budget allocation, Rs 35,000 crore to fully vaccinate 50 crore citizens, will cover the entire expenditure.
The government's ambitious vaccination drive has silenced its sharpest critics and placed India on the world map ahead of many developed nations in successfully overcoming the challenges in the fight against Covid-19. As India and the rest of the world look forward to once again return to normal, pre-pandemic life, it is heart-warming to see conscientious citizens and NGOs come forward to work with the government to defeat this deadly virus. As a citizen, dedicated to serve the people of my country, I would like to thank each and everyone who stepped up and helped fellow Indians during the lockdown and continue to play an active role in society.
The author is two-term MLA in Gujarat Assembly, representing Majura Assembly seat in Surat. Views expressed are personal.