PUNE, India — India on Saturday began one of the most ambitious and complex initiatives in its history: the nationwide rollout of coronavirus vaccines to 1.3 billion people, an undertaking that will stretch from the perilous reaches of the Himalayas to the dense jungles of the country’s southern tip.
The campaign is unfolding in a country that has reported more than 10.5 million coronavirus infections, the second-largest caseload after the United States, and 152,093 deaths, the world’s third-highest tally.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi kicked off the vaccine drive on Saturday with a live television address as 3,000 centers nationwide were set to inoculate a first round of health care workers.
“Everyone was asking as to when the vaccine will be available,” Mr. Modi said. “It is available now. I congratulate all the countrymen on this occasion.”
The government had hoped to inoculate about 300,000 people on Saturday, but government data showed that 165,000 people received a shot. The plan is to give the vaccine to millions more health care and frontline workers by the spring.
At Kamala Nehru Hospital in Pune, a city of about 3.1 million southeast of Mumbai, 100 long-stemmed red roses were stacked neatly on a table beside a bottle of hand sanitizer. Each person registered to receive the Covishield vaccine, developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University and manufactured by the Pune-based Serum Institute of India, was to get a rose.
Covishield and another vaccine called Covaxin were authorized for emergency use in India this month.
Neither Covaxin’s manufacturer, Bharat Biotech, nor the Indian Council of Medical Research, which contributed to the vaccine’s development, has published data proving that it works.
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