The government on Wednesday said it has permitted round-the-clock COVID-19 vaccination as part of efforts to speed-up the immunisation drive which received a fresh boost with the makers of the indigenous Covaxin saying it has shown an interim efficacy of 81 per cent in Phase 3 clinical trials.
Easing restrictions, all private hospitals were on Tuesday allowed to give the vaccines if they adhere to the laid down norms, while the 9 am to 5 pm timing was also done away with.
More than 1.56 crore (1,56,20,749) vaccine doses have been administered in the country through 3,12,188 sessions since January 16, according to a provisional report till Wednesday 7 am.
'The government has lifted the time restriction to increase the speed of vaccination. People can now get vaccinated 24x7 according to their convenience. Prime Minister Narendra Modi understands the value of health as well as the time of citizens,' Health Minister Harsh Vardhan tweeted in Hindi, a day after he got his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
President Ram Nath Kovind was administered the first dose of COVID-19 vaccine at an army hospital in the national capital on Wednesday.
Several other prominent people including Union Minister Hardeep Puri, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan , Goa Chief Minister Pramod Sawant, Meghalaya Governor Satya Pal Malik and Sikkim Governor Ganga Prasad also received their first jabs.
The Indian Council of Medical Research, the country's apex research body, and Bharat Biotech announced that phase 3 results of Covaxin, developed by them, has shown an interim vaccine efficacy of 81 per cent in preventing COVID-19, and dubbed it as an important milestone in vaccine discovery.
"The bench-to-bedside journey of completely indigenous COVID-19 vaccine in less than eight months' time showcases the immense strength of Atmanirbhar Bharat [self-reliant India] to fight the odds and stand tall in the global public health community.
"It is also a testament to India's emergence as a global vaccine superpower," said Dr Balram Bhargava, Director General, ICMR, said on Wednesday.
In January, India's drugs regulator had approved Oxford COVID-19 vaccine Covishield, manufactured by the Serum Institute, and Covaxin for restricted emergency use in the country, paving the way for the massive inoculation drive.
Some questions were raised on the approval to Covaxin as its phase three trial results were awaited, but the company and government authorities had discounted concerns.
"Today is an important milestone in vaccine discovery, for science and our fight against coronavirus. With today's results from our phase 3 clinical trials, we have now reported data on our COVID-19 vaccine from Phase 1, 2, and 3 trials involving around 27,000 participants," Bharat Biotech Chairman & Managing Director Krishna Ella said.
On Monday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was administered Covaxin on the very first day of expansion of the inoculation drive to cover people aged 60 and above and those between 45-59 having co-morbidities.
Covaxin has been developed on the WHO prequalified vero cell platform which is globally recognized with a well-established track record of safety, the ICMR said.
It said Covaxin's ability to neutralise the United Kingdom variant strain of SARS-CoV-2 has also recently been established.
"The development and deployment of Covaxin ensures that India has a powerful weapon in its arsenal in a continually evolving pandemic situation and will go a long way in helping us win the war against COVID-19.
"The need of the hour is to ensure that people in India continue to receive the vaccine and break the chain of virus transmission," said Dr Samiran Panda, Head, Epidemiology and Communicable Disease, ICMR and Director, National AIDS Research Institute.
Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan had told a press conference on Tuesday that the timeline of vaccinating the beneficiaries from 9 am to 5 pm has been done away with and it is up to the hospitals to decide whether they want to continue administering the vaccines even after that.
"Co-WIN 2.0 does not provide 9 am-5 pm vaccination sessions. It has done away with that timeline. If a hospital has the capacity, the system permits it to do vaccination even after 5 PM in consultation with the state government.
"This has been briefed both to the state governments as well as the private and government hospitals," he said.
The second dose of the vaccine against COVID-19 was being administered from February 13 for those who have completed 28 days since the receipt of the first dose.
The vaccination of frontline workers (FLWs) started on February 2.
The second phase of the COVID-19 vaccination commenced from March 1 for people over 60 years of age and those aged 45 and above with specified co-morbid conditions.
The beneficiaries include 67,42,187 healthcare workers (first dose), 27,13,144 HCWs (second dose), 55,70,230 FLWs (first dose), 834 FLWs (second dose), 71,896 beneficiaries aged more than 45 years with specific co-morbidities (first dose) and 5,22,458 beneficiaries aged above 60 years.
Covishield had shown an efficacy rate of 70 percent after two full doses. However, one of the regimens with a half dose and a full dose showed 90 per cent efficacy against the virus.
"I took the jab to bolster people's trust in the vaccine," Goa Chief Minister Pramod Sawant said.
The 47-year-old politician is a trained medical doctor and comes under the category of health professionals.
Kerala Chief Minister urged people to take part in the drive without any hesitation and criticised those involved in spreading rumours and misinformation against taking the shot.
"Receiving the COVID-19 vaccine was a good experience and there was no need to worry at all about it," he told reporters after taking the shot along with his wife Kamala.
Noting that a large number of people were coming forward to take the vaccine, Vijayan said vaccination has equipped the mankind to prevent deadly diseases that had plagued the world at various stages.
Diseases like Polio could be eradicated through vaccination.
But, still there were some people campaigning against the drive.
"However, people have not accepted it. I am saying this to prevent people from falling prey to such propaganda," the chief minister added.
Later, in a tweet, Vijayan said, 'Took the first dose of COVID vaccine today. Vaccines provide immunity to diseases. I encourage everyone to get vaccinated as and when it is available.
'Together, let us overcome this pandemic through scientific methods.'
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, several union ministers and other prominent leaders and personalities have taken the COVID-vaccine in the second phase.