Vaccines: Injecting Hope exhibition in Delhi looks into India's Covid-19 episode

India mounts a travelling exhibition on how the pandemic was tackled and the role vaccines have played down the ages in saving lives
The exhibition at the National Science Centre
The exhibition at the National Science Centre

There was death. There is hope. Those were grim times when Dr Pragya D Yadav, head, of Biosafety Level 4 lab, ICMR-NIV (National Institute of Virology), Pune, would zip up day after day in a BSL-4 or hazmat suit while playing her part in developing India’s first indigenous vaccine, Covaxin. Today the suit is on display at the Vaccines: Injecting Hope exhibition at the National Science Centre (NSC) in Delhi.

Dr Pragya D Yadav
Dr Pragya D Yadav

The exhibition is a solemn reminder of how in 2020 when millions died worldwide and economies faced a global setback, a group of warriors formed a task force to root out the virus and act as disruptors.
Two years on, in November 2022, India, the UK and China came together to mount the presentation. Sharing the theme, the three countries have individually curated a travelling exhibition that showcases how the pandemic was tackled. It centres on inspiring stories of scientists and innovators collaborating around the globe to find solutions.

Ninety-two-year-old Margaret Keenan’s bright blue T-shirt is on display at the UK exhibition—Keenan became the first known person to receive a vaccination for Covid-19. Thirty-three-year-old sanitation worker from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Delhi, Manish Kumar, too finds a place as an important exhibit: he was the first person in the country to be vaccinated against the coronavirus.

The exhibition displays the actual container in which the first sample of Covid was brought from Kerala to Pune for testing. There are also different vials on display, which were used to test and store the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2. A sculpture, titled Through the Lens,  depicts a swirling vortex of corona warriors; commissioned by the British Council of India and fashioned in collaboration with Delhi-based sculptor Sushank Kumar and British playwright Nigel Townsend.

There’s also a visual montage of a series of events witnessed worldwide during the pandemic—helpless masses, volunteers and frontline workers going about their day aiding people, vaccination drives, faces covered in masks, and more.Dr Raj Mehrotra, project coordinator (head), NSC, says, “The exhibition focuses on how the Covid-19 virus arrived in parts of the world, how we went about tackling it, the vaccine development, etc. We want to  give  people the message  that vaccines are not new. They have been there. It was saving lives for centuries.”

Through the Lens; (right) the hazmat suit
Through the Lens; (right) the hazmat suit

Based on various themes, the exhibition carries segments such as ‘Designing a New Vaccine’, ‘Trials, Results and Approvals’, ‘Scaling Up and Mass Production’, ‘Vaccine Rollout’ and ‘Living with Covid’.
Like the NSC in Delhi, the show in the UK is being hosted by the Science Museum in London. In China, the honours go to the Guangdong Science Centre in Guangzhou. The shows will be followed by
a national tour to multiple venues until late 2025. In India, the exhibition will further travel to Nagpur, Mumbai, Bengaluru and Kolkata. Another version of the exhibit—a mobile science exhibition—will travel to rural areas across northern India. The show must go on.

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The New Indian Express