Pace of vaccine drive gives city hope of combating next wave of Covid-19
- Delhi is an outlier in terms of spread and pace of jabs, but recent shortages could hurt targets.
Over the last two months, Delhi battled a crushing fourth wave of Covid-19 cases that overwhelmed hospitals, exhausted doctors, and pushed the Capital’s medical infrastructure to the brink. For six weeks, the city has also been shut down with shops, restaurants and most offices closed, public transport at a bare minimum, and nothing but essential services functioning.
But throughout these challenges, the state government continued the immunisation drive at an even clip, coordinated with the Centre and private entities, fought vaccine hesitancy and steadily increased inoculation sites.
The result: Nearly one in every four eligible residents in the Capital has received at least one shot till May 26, the highest universal coverage for at least one jab among India’s 20 most populous regions. “The government left no stone unturned in increasing vaccine sites, from health facilities to schools, despite a wide range of difficulties during an unprecedented surge in cases,” said revenue minister Kailash Gahlot.
The relatively high coverage has been hobbled in recent weeks by a supply shortage but will be crucial in reducing the impact of a third wave, say experts. “A high vaccine coverage will absolutely help Delhi in attaining a herd immunity-like situation with which the population can be protected against potential outbreaks in the coming days. That way, Delhi is headed in the right direction,” said Dr Jacob John, former head of clinical virology department at Christian Medical College.
Data from the Union health ministry’s Co-WIN dashboard till May 26 showed Delhi gave 5,226,664 doses to fully vaccinate 1.18 million people, and partly vaccinated 2.87 million more. This means that out of the nearly 20.6 million residents in the city-state, 5.7% residents are completely vaccinated and 14% are partially vaccinated. This translates to 19.7% of the population having received at least one shot. In contrast, the national average is 14.6% -- comprising 11.5% people with one dose and 3.1% fully immunised.
Only two regions come close to Delhi – Kerala at 19.1% and Jammu and Kashmir at 19%.
According to Delhi’s 2020-21 economic survey , around five million people are below 18. The government said it did not have data on people from other states who got jabs in Delhi.
A break-up by age showed the Capital is far ahead of its peers in vaccinating its younger population. Around 14.5% of Delhi’s 18-45 age group has received at least one shot of the Covid-19 vaccine, significantly above the national average of 5%. In the older people category, Delhi has administered at least one dose to a little over half of its population (50.4%). Four regions – Chhattisgarh, Jammu and Kashmir, Rajasthan and Gujarat – have given shots to a larger proportion of their population.
PLANNED VACCINE SITES
On April 1, Delhi had 450 government vaccination sites for inoculating the city’s health care workers, frontline workers, and people aged 45 and above. The number has now increased to 720. These sites were set up primarily in hospitals and dispensaries.
When the vaccine drive was opened for the 18-45 age group on May 3, the state government added another 368 sites. But these new centres were set up in public schools. “It was a challenging job because it had to be done at a time when the city was struggling for oxygen, ICUs, hospital beds, medicines. Making dedicated teams helped in this regard,” said a senior revenue department official, who did not wish to be identified.
The decision to pick government schools to set up new centres was carefully thought out, and aimed to fight vaccine hesitancy, said officials.
“In the first week of May, Delhi was in the middle of a severe surge of Covid-19 cases. People feared visiting hospitals. And the fear was natural because most hospitals had Covid-19 patients, which means a high chance of getting infected. So, for the 18-45 group, arrangements were made in schools. And that turned out to be a gamechanger,” said a senior health department official on condition of anonymity.
Key to this success was the smooth experience of people in government centres.
Arijit Sen, executive with an international audit firm based in Delhi, said: “Several of my friends went for their vaccination to the Delhi government centres and posted their pictures on social media. So, I went to a Delhi government centre to get my shot. The centres were neat and tidy. There was proper space to maintain distancing. They were organised. There was no fear at all.”
Gahlot said over the last few weeks, the government’s efforts in allaying vaccine hesitancy have borne fruit.“We ensured that the service was impeccable. That is one reason why a large number of people across all social classes chose government sites for vaccination,” he said.
But over the past two weeks, Delhi suffered an acute shortage of vaccines, forcing the city government to suspend 368 vaccine sites for the 18-45 group.
Though 720 sites for the 45-plus group continue to function, they are out of Covaxin doses. The centres for the 45-plus have Covishield for 12 days, the government’s vaccine bulletin said on Thursday.
“We have the resources and capacity to scale up vaccination, but we are out of vaccines, which forced us to shut down hundreds of vaccine sites. We hope the central government will intervene in this regard and resolve the problem by ensuring a stable supply of vaccines to Delhi. If there is no shortage of vaccines then we can ensure that the entire population of the city is vaccinated in 3 months,” said Gahlot.
The Centre has repeatedly said it is doing everything possible to increase vaccine supply. “The central government is doing all the heavy-lifting, from funding vaccine manufacturers to giving them quick approvals to ramping up production to bringing foreign vaccines to India. Vaccines procured by the Centre are supplied wholly to the states... The government of India has merely enabled states to try procuring vaccines on their own, on their explicit requests,” said VK Paul, member (health), Niti Aayog, in a statement on Thursday.
Despite the challenges, experts say that Delhi is headed in the right direction on vaccination. “Demand for vaccines has increased and that has translated into good turnout and high coverage at a time when the pandemic was raging. There are multiple factors. Vaccine hesitancy has reduced and the government has taken numerous initiatives in this regard. Then there is the fear factor. By early-March, a large number of people were convinced that Covid-19 had been left shattered. Delhi is headed in the right direction. It is still commendable that Delhi has been able to increase the vaccine coverage amid such a severe surge in cases,” said Dr Puneet Misra, professor at All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in Delhi. “Around 70%-80% fully vaccinated people can lead to herd immunity,” he added.