A total of 1,91,181 beneficiaries were vaccinated on the first day of India’s coronavirus vaccination drive as the country kickstarted its inoculation campaign with two locally manufactured shots, the Union health ministry said on Saturday.

No case of post-vaccination hospitalisation was reported as of Saturday evening, it added.

The first dose was administered to a sanitation worker at the All Indian Institute of Medical Sciences in Delhi, after Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the campaign with a nationally televised speech.

The health ministry said 16,755 personnel were involved in organising the immunisation session sites on the first day. But the sheer scale of the exercise did face some hurdles.

For instance, there were delays in uploading the details of healthcare workers receiving the shots to the digital platform, CoWin, which the government is using to track vaccines, the health ministry said. However, they were successfully resolved, and adequate quantities of vaccines and logistics were ensured, it added.

The government said it was looking into the efficacy issues related to CoWin. “The system performance and the speed improved and is being further optimised,” Health Secretary Manohar Agnani said on Saturday, according to The Economic Times.

India, which has reported the highest number of coronavirus infections after the United States, plans to vaccinate around 300 million people with two doses in the first six to eight months of the year. The recipients include 30 million doctors, nurses and other front-line workers, to be followed by people who are either over 50 or have illnesses that make them vulnerable to Covid-19.

Beneficiaries, however, will not be able to choose between the Oxford University-AstraZeneca vaccine produced by the Serum Institute of India and a government-backed, indigenous one from Bharat Biotech whose efficacy is not known.

‘Tremendous relief,’ says health minister

Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said the launch of the world’s largest vaccination drive brought “tremendous relief”, reported ANI.

“With our population and a history of Universal Immunisation Program which involves targeted vaccination against 12 vaccine-preventable diseases, India stands at the cusp of recording history and shows the way to peers across the globe,” Vardhan said at a press briefing, according to The Hindu. “After smallpox and polio, it is the turn of Covid-19. All the remote, hard to reach areas, urban slums, tribal belts are all covered in Saturday’s exercise.”

Vardhan alleged that a small section of people were “spreading rumours about vaccines, their utility, their safety, to mislead the people in society”, reported ANI. “But such a large number of people received vaccines today with great joy and enthusiasm, eminent doctors received the vaccine,” he said.

Many scientists and doctors believe India’s drug regulator rushed into clearing Covaxin, as it has no large-scale efficacy and safety data so far. Government authorities, however, have strenuously tried to allay concerns about the safety of locally produced vaccine.

The health minister said the reason why he had not taken the vaccine himself was because politicians were not considered a priority group in the first phase of the rollout.

“A debate has started that why are Health Ministers or people’s representatives not taking vaccine,” he added. “I was asked that why am I not taking vaccine? I told them that I’ll wait for my turn, which will come when people above 50 years of age will be administered vaccine.”

Vardhan said that people would have questioned the government if its leaders had taken the vaccine before anyone else in the country. “So, we should not get worried about such discussions.”

“We need to counter the rumours and myth mongering in relation to administering the vaccines,” Vardhan said. “People should not be misguided by the misinformation campaigns and believe only credible and authentic information.’’

Vaccines are the “route to victory” for India, the health minister said, adding: “The vaccine will be remembered like a Sanjeevani for clinching the victory over Covid-19.”

India registered 15,158 new coronavirus cases on Saturday, taking the overall count to 1,05,42,841. The country’s toll rose by 175 to 1,52,093. India’s active cases stood at 2,11,033, while the number of recoveries reached 1,01,79,715.