A health worker inoculates a dose of the Covaxin vaccine at a high school in Ahmedabad on Monday. AFP
The teenagers, many wearing their uniforms, queued at schools and health centres across the country as health workers injected them with Bharat Biotech's Covaxin — the only COVID-19 vaccine so far approved by India for those below 18 years.
The drive has come amid a sharp rise in cases in India, with the federal health ministry on Monday reporting 33,750 new infections and 123 deaths. The total number of cases of the fast-spreading Omicron variant detected in India was 1,700.
Data from the health ministry's CoWIN portal showed that 3.85 million doses of vaccines had been administered to those aged between 15 and 17 years on Monday.
Kishan Bhuyan, 17, queued with friends in the eastern city of Bhubaneswar after registering online for the COVID-19 jab. "I was waiting for this (vaccination) for so long," Bhuyan, a high school student, said after receiving his vaccine. "I am now protected."
"It's really great to have your first vaccine," said 16-year-old Soumadeep, after receiving his first dose of the Indian-made Covaxin. "It's like a new year gift for the children."
Several countries including the United States, Britain and South Korea have seen infections among children fuelling a rise in cases in recent weeks and have encouraged parents to get their children vaccinated.
India has more than 120 million people aged between 15 and 19 years, according to the country's 2011 Census, and the largest population of adolescents in the world, as per UNICEF estimates.
Some Indian states have set ambitious vaccination targets. Authorities in Gujarat, which is Prime Minister Narendra Modi's home state, are hoping to give a first dose to 3.6 million teens this week.
"We have the capacity and we have the vaccines to cover most of the children. We appeal to parents to cooperate and ensure the children are vaccinated at the earliest," said Jai Prakash Shivahare, Gujarat's health commissioner.
Officials have fretted over the arrival of the Omicron coronavirus variant and a sudden rise in daily infections, with some of India's biggest urban centres imposing fresh restrictions last week.
New Delhi and tech hub Bangalore are under overnight curfews from 10 pm each evening, with bars and restaurants in both cities ordered to operate at half capacity.
A health worker inoculates a youth with a dose of the Covaxin at a Medical college in Allahabad. AFP
Mumbai, India's commercial capital, has barred public gatherings of more than four people from 9 pm to 6 am and restricted wedding ceremonies to 50 guests.
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First detected in southern Africa in November 2021, swiftly spread across the globe last December, proving its more readily transmissable but less severe than its parent sttain.
"India creates history again! Congrats to all Indians on crossing the special figure of 200 crore vaccine doses. Proud of those who contributed to making India's vaccination drive unparalleled in scale and speed," said Prime Minister Narendra Modi
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