The countdown for the much awaited Covid-19 vaccination programme in India – a nation of more than 1.30 billion inhabitants and the second most-affected after the US in global infection tally, has begun. With Prime Minister Modi giving his final nod for the programme to start on Saturday, January 16, preparations are near-complete across states. The PM will launch the vaccination drive in two hospitals in Karnataka as some three crore health-care workers and allied staff on Covid-duty will be the first to line up for the jabs, followed by those above age 50 and people with co-morbidity conditions.

Two vaccines are in the forefront now, Covishield and Covaxin. The death of a volunteer in Bhopal in phase-three trials of Covaxin by BharatBiotech on December 21 came as a dampener, but the authorities have stressed that the death occurred due to cardio respiratory failure “not linked to the vaccine jab.” While the vaccination drive has begun in the West, overall, no health complication thereof has been reported. Experts in the medical field vouch for the safety of the vaccines produced both in India and outside too.

A silver lining in the grim Covid-19 scenario is the good performance by Indian pharma firms to come up with vaccines, and their efforts have won global acclaim and a pat from the WHO too.

While the arrival of a new Covid-19 strain from the UK caused some concern in the past couple of weeks, the overall Covid scenario in the country remains well under control. More and more of the activities are getting resumed. Over 1,50,000 deaths were reported so far from this pandemic in India, where less than one per cent of the population was infected by the time the vaccine jab season has arrived. Expectations are that the situation could be mostly neutralized by May this year.

The sense of optimism is however tempered with the risks that lie ahead. A relief is that the new strains too can be kept out of harm’s way by the vaccines that are ready for Covid-19. Yet, there are the imponderables. Studies are under way about the long-term risk factors for the Covid-infected. Time alone can say if things are as simple as we presume. Lots of people who recovered from the Covid-19 infection have developed sleep difficulties; and more have suffered from fatigue and muscle weakness, as a study in Wuhan, where the virus made its initial hits showed. This, however, is time to hope for the best and make a success out of the vaccination programme.

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