Expanded COVID vaccination drive gains momentum; Health Minister Vardhan, Rajnath Singh, Farooq Abdullah get first jab

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NEW DELHI: Several prominent leaders like Health Minister Harsh Vardhan, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and former J&K chief minister Farooq Abdullah were among those who received their first anti-COVID jab on Tuesday, day two of the expanded vaccination drive which was gaining momentum with 50 lakh people registering themselves on the Co-WIN portal.

Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan said as many as 2,08,791 people who are over 60 years of age or are within the age bracket of 45-60 years with specified comorbidities have been vaccinated since the second phase began on March 1, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi, several union ministers and chief ministers also took the vaccine.

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As they shared pictures of their vaccination on social media, many urged others to take the vaccine soon, and pay for it if they can afford it. The vaccines are being administered free of cost at government hospitals and health centres, while up to Rs 250 per dose will be charged at private health facilities.

Union ministers Ravi Shankar Prasad and Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, actor-politician Kamal Haasan, Kerala Health Minister K K Shailaja, her cabinet colleagues E Chandrasekharan and Kadannappally Ramachandran, Andhra Pradesh Governor Biswabhusan Harichandan and his wife Suprava Harichandan were also among those who got their first COVID-19 jab.

There was a dose of controversy too on Tuesday after Karnataka Agriculture Minister B C Patil, 64, tweeted that he and his wife had taken at the vaccine at his residence in Haveri district, instead of going to a designated hospital. The Union Health Ministry said it has sought a report as it is not allowed in the protocol.

So far, 1,48,55,073 COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered in the two phases till 1 PM on Tuesday, out of which 67,04,856 healthcare workers have been given the first dose of the vaccine and 25,98,192 healthcare workers have been administered the second dose, the government said.

Besides, 53,43,219 frontline workers have been administered the first dose of vaccine till now.

R S Sharma, the Chairman of the Empowered Group (EG) on COVID-19 Vaccine Administration, said that since Monday morning, when the registrations were opened at 9 AM, about 50 lakh registrations have taken place on Co-WIN appa for vaccination

Vardhan, who along with his wife Nutan Goel took the jab at the Delhi Heart and Lung Institute, a private facility, said that the vaccine will act as a “sanjeevani” for the people.

“I and my wife paid Rs 250 each for our doses. I would like to appeal to people that those who can afford vaccine in our country can visit the nearest hospital and get the dose.”

He asked the citizens to follow COVID-19-appropriate behaviour as well as vaccine-appropriate behaviour.

Industrialist and popular personalities from sports and other fields also shared their vaccination experience.

“Happy to share that I took the first shot of the vaccine this morning. Smooth and no pain,” Kotak Mahindra Bank MD and CEO Uday Kotak.

Indian cricket team head coach Ravi Shastri also took his first COVID vaccine those.

“Thank you amazing medical professionals and scientists empowering India,” he tweeted.

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh took the coronavirus vaccine at the Army”s Research and Referral Hospital in Delhi and asserted that it is completely safe.

“India”s resolve for making the country COVID-free has been strengthened by this inoculation drive. The vaccine is completely safe and hassle-free. #LargestVaccineDrive,” the minister said in a tweet. National Conference president Farooq Abdullah, 85, got his first dose of COVID-19 vaccine at at the Sher-e-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences, Srinagar.

Omar Abdullah, son of the NC president, took to Twitter to thank the doctors and other staff at the hospital for administering the vaccine to his father.

“Thank you to the doctors, nurses and staff at SKIMS, Srinagar. Today my 85-year-old father & my mother had their first COVID jab. My father has a number of health issues including being on immunosuppressants for a kidney transplant. If he can get the vaccine, you should as well,” Omar tweeted.

Several senior citizens like 70-year-old Mukesh Sehgal, who took his vaccine at the Delhi Heart and Lung Institute, said the prime minister’s move encouraged him to get inoculated against the viral disease.

Sunil Rustagi (61), a resident of Sarai Rohila, said he consulted a doctor at the AIIMS on Monday before registering for the vaccination.

“I felt confident to go ahead as the prime minister himself took the first dose of the vaccine,” he said.

Union minister and senior BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad was administered the first dose of the anti-coronavirus vaccine in Patna on Tuesday for which he paid Rs 250.

Actor Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM) founder Kamal Haasan was administered with the COVID-19 vaccine at a Chennai hospital.

“I took the coronavirus vaccine at Sri Ramachandra Hospital. Those who care not only for themselves but also for others should get vaccinated,” Haasan said in a tweet that was accompanied with a picture of him getting vaccinated.

“Immunisation of the body immediately (and) vaccination against corruption next month. Get ready,” he said in an apparent reference to the April 6 Tamil Nadu Assembly elections.

Speaking in Delhi, R S Sharma, the Chairman of the Empowered Group (EG) on COVID-19 Vaccine Administration, rejected claims of glitches in the system.

“What happened was that people were looking for an App on Playstore which appeared similar to Co-WIN and started using that when no mobile App meant for registration is actually present right now,” he said.

Citizens can register and book an appointment for vaccination, anytime and anywhere, using the Co-WIN 2.0 portal or through other IT applications such as Aarogya Setu, he said.

“Since last morning, when the registrations were opened up at 9 AM, we had about 50 lakh registrations on our site. Though there were some glitches in the first version of the Co-WIN which was launched on January 16, we have had no glitches in the new version of the system,” he said.

He said the government is watching the system closely as it has to be “highly scalable”.

“It should be able to take care of a huge amount of load. After all, it is a program with which we will be vaccinating 1/6th of humanity and this program has to cater to millions of people at the same time,” he said.

The number of transactions and data transmission will be very large, he said.

“We want data to be secure and free from cyber-attacks. We are taking best security practices. We are only collecting data in the form of name, age and gender as we need to monitor the second dose,” he said.

NITI Aayog member (Health) V K Paul urged people to come forward to get vaccinated and stressed that public compliance for COVID-19 appropriate behaviour cannot be diluted.

Home Minister Amit Shah, Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu, Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik and his Bihar counterpart Nitish Kumar, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, Assam Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma and NCP president Sharad Pawar took the jab on Monday.