Reality Check: Odds And Ordeals Of Vaccination In India

India’s count of COVID-19 exceeded 3.12 crore while the cumulative vaccination coverage has surpassed 41.76 crore, according to latest Health Ministry data.

The media’s focus has unwaveringly been on the paucity of vaccines and India’s inadequacy to vaccinate a significant number. However, what is least talked about is the manner of vaccination in India, especially in public outlets. I will engage my own experience to put forth my arguments. I concur that my viewpoint may not be reflective of every vaccination centre. Nevertheless, it does reflect the chaos at some vaccination centres. It also propels us to think of suitable measures with urgency.

Initially, the process of booking a slot for a vaccine was discriminatory because it elided that part of the population which lacked basic technical skills. Fortunately, I fell on the other side of the table and had the requisite technical know-how to book a slot in Bhubaneswar in the first week of May. Lockdown had been invoked just then. However, as soon as I reached the vaccination centre, I was taken aback by the vast sea of people. I had only seen such crowds with glaring indiscipline to queues outside ticket-counters of movie halls for movies of Salman Khan. It was difficult to determine the endpoint of the queue, if there was one, where one was expected to join. It was almost a Mobius strip. There was complete lack of clarity akin to the government’s response to the second wave. The only policeman who guarded the entry door was clueless and indifferent. Whenever a confused person approached him, he shot back: “Why are you telling me? What can I do?”

People were foul-mouthing each other, pushing each other. There were complaints among them how somebody had barged into the so-called queue leading to heated arguments and debates: the raw version of what you watch in most news channels these days. The babble resembled that of a fish market without a doubt.

After a lot of struggle, I realised there were two identical queues heading to the entry door. I managed to join one of them. However, when my time of entering the door came, two other policemen arrived in the scene out of nowhere and sternly ordered to have only one queue, thereby outlawing the long line which followed me. It was utterly disgusting. When I had initially asked the lone policeman about the proper line, he had no answer. Now, he was throwing tantrums and orders as though it was my fault.

With a lot of patience and tenacity, I somehow managed to enter inside to take the vaccine. However, after I got the jab, I looked for a place to sit for 30 minutes as recommended by the government. There were only a few chairs and competition was as tough as the one for Parliament! Many persons had to immediately exit the vaccination centre after the jab. Frankly, they had no choice.

Things have improved drastically in the last couple of months. The advent of mobile booths for vaccination, the use of regional languages in the CoWIN app and, importantly, abandoning the process of online booking to accommodate the technically-deprived population are welcome measures of the government. The crowds have also shrunk at vaccination centres, making the process easier and accessible. Nevertheless, there are instances where the process of vaccination is still a difficult exercise. One of my acquaintances, who happens to be a senior citizen, in western Odisha informed me that he had been to the local hospital thrice in the last week or so but he hasn’t yet received the first jab. In the first instance, someone asked him to bring the mobile phone which was used to book the slot and he had to return. In his last visit, someone mentioned the absence of vaccines to send him back. The person concerned is a septuagenarian without secondary education or technical skills. When I talked to him, he told me that he would wait for camps or mobile booths to seek vaccination and not go to the hospital again. I am not sure who exactly was responsible in dissuading the old man. Such persons need to be convinced at any cost. The staff deployed must be flexible and lenient in such cases to ensure that proper communication is maintained.

I would also mention the binary of vaccines in India. In Odisha, except Bhubaneswar where one gets Covaxin, every other place offers Covishield. It badly affects the migrants. For example, if a worker from Kalahandi is working in Bhubaneswar on a temporary basis and prefers to take the first jab in the capital, s/he would have to come again to Bhubaneswar for the second jab as well. Similarly, natives of other areas who may be studying in Bhubaneswar will have to think twice before taking the first jab of Covaxin because the government recommends the second jab within 42 days.

The onus is on the government to rapidly vaccinate the population before an imminent third wave. With a population over a billion, the government must speed up the process of vaccination. New vaccines slated to pitch in will address the problem of scarcity reasonably. Moreover, extra policemen should be deployed in centres that are still harbouring bigger crowds to ensure discipline in the queues, some social distancing at least, and to avoid unnecessary physical brawls. From what I saw, a person who comes for the vaccine to such centres may very well go with the virus too. If the crowd is controlled, everything else will follow suit. The waiting hall may accomodate more chairs.  It would be wise if counsellors are deputed at every centre to facilitate the transmission of vaccines and to understand the concerns of illiterate masses. The problem of binary of vaccines should be addressed too. A person shouldn’t be forced to change her/ his priorities for the right vaccine. At a time when communication is yet to reach normalcy, expecting a person to travel back to a place for the second dose is risky and unjust. These little things are extremely important to put the virus under check. These little things are a part of the reason why some other developed countries have outpaced India in the fight against COVID.


[Disclaimer: The views expressed by the author are personal and do not necessarily represent that of the website]

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