NEW DELHI : INDIA starts world's largest Covid-19 vaccination drive by innoculating health workers on Saturday what is likely to be the world's largest Covid-19 vaccination campaign, joining the ranks of wealthier nations where the effort is already well underway.

We are launching the world's biggest vaccination drive and it shows the world our capability, PM Modi said. He implored the citizens to keep their guard and not to believe any rumors about the safety of the vaccine.

It was not clear whether PM Modi, 70, had received the vaccine himself like other world leaders to try to demonstrate the shots safety. His government has said politicians will not be considered priority groups in the first phase of the rollout.

Health officials haven't specified what percentage of India's nearly 1.4 billion people will be targeted by the campaign. But experts say it will almost certainly be the largest of such drive.

Shots were given to at least 165, 714 people on Saturday, Dr. Manohar Agnani, a Health Ministry Official said at an evening briefing. The ministry had said that it was aiming to vaccinate 100 people in each of the 3,006 centers across the country.

News cameras captured the injections across hundreds of hospitals, underscoring the pent up hopes that vaccination was the first step in getting past the pandemic that has devastated the lives of so many Indians and bruised the country's economy.

India on Jan 4 approved emergency use of two vaccines, one developed by Oxford University and UK-based drugmaker AstraZeneca, and another by Indian company Bharat Biotech. Cargo planes flew 16.5 million shots to different Indian cities last week.

But doubts over the effectiveness of the homegrown vaccine is creating hurdles for the ambitious plan.

Health workers worry that the regulatory shortcut taken to approve the Bharat Biotech vaccine without waiting for concrete data that would show its efficacy in preventing illness from the coronavirus could amplify vaccine hesitancy. At least one health minister has opposed its use. [AP]


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