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Mumbai: Citizens go outside city for Covid jabs

Even as private hospitals are still struggling with the procurement of Covid-19 vaccines for those above 18 years, the shortage of vials is forcing city-dwellers to book slots for jabs on the outskirts
By Rupsa Chakraborty, Mumbai
PUBLISHED ON MAY 10, 2021 12:54 AM IST

Even as private hospitals are still struggling with the procurement of Covid-19 vaccines for those above 18 years, the shortage of vials is forcing city-dwellers to book slots for jabs on the outskirts. While it is not illegal, public health officers have requested citizens to refrain from doing so.

On May 6, a 28-year-old Kandivli resident travelled 32km to Thane with his 22-year-old sister to get the first shot of Covishield. After trying to book a slot for a jab in the city for five days, he decided to book an appointment in Thane. “My sister is on dialysis for the past two years after she got detected with a chronic kidney disease. Every alternative day, she has to undergo dialysis. So, it was essential that she got the jab at the earliest,” he said.

In another instance, a 30-year-old Vasai resident booked appointments at a sub-district hospital in Jawhar, Palghar on May 7. But on May 8, when he along with his 26-year-old wife, went to the centre, the hospital asked outsiders to wait until they inoculated the locals. After immunising the locals, the others were asked to leave. When they resisted, the hospital staffers allegedly misbehaved with them. “Later, when the tehsildar appeared at the vaccination centre, he asked everyone to leave saying vaccines would not be given to outsiders. When one person asked the reason, he threatened to be arrested,” he said.

State health minister Rajesh Tope said, “It’s injustice to rural people who are being deprived of the opportunity to get inoculated. People from the city should not do this. There is no need to panic over the limited supply of vaccine doses.”

But citizens reasoned saying that it is not illegal to book appointments in other districts or outskirts if slots are available. “Mumbai is a part of Maharashtra and we pay taxes to the government. So, if needy people can find a slot, then they have the right to book it. Within seconds, the slots are getting over. This is so frustrating,” said the Kandivali resident.

Pvt hospitals still in the dark

From May 1, the Central government allowed private hospitals to inoculate those above 18 years. Of the hundreds of private hospitals in Mumbai, only two — HL Reliance (Girgaum) and Nanavati (Vile Parle) Hospitals – have got vials to inoculate the public above 18 years. Even after nine days of starting the fourth phase of the mass immunization programme, private hospitals in the city are still struggling to procure the vials.

Dr Sujit Chatterjee, chief executive officer (CEO), LH Hiranandani Hospital, Powai, said, “We have not been able to get the vaccine from the BMC. We also do not know whom to contact. Nobody seems to have any answers.”

He also held a conference call with the Serum Institute of India (SII) where he was informed that it would take them two-three months to supply the vials directly to the private hospitals. “They informed us that they are ramping up the production. Almost 50% of the vials would be given to the Government of India (GOI) and the other 50% vaccines would be provided to the Government of Maharashtra (GOM). If GOM doesn’t give the vaccines, we would have to procure it directly from the manufacturer which would take till the end June/July,” he said.

Every day, major hospitals like Lilavati, Bombay and Jaslok Hospitals are getting over 35 queries from young adults about vaccination. “We have kept the infrastructure ready but if we don’t get the vials, we are helpless. Private hospitals can play an integral part in the mass immunisation programme, if we are given the vials,” said Dr V Ravishankar, CEO of Lilavati hospital.

Maharashtra has reported the highest number of Covid-19 cases in the country and Mumbai is often considered the epicentre of the pandemic. At a time, when public health officers have already declared a possibility of a third wave in the next four-five months, local politicians have come down heavily on the Central government for their lack of preparedness.

“As reported, the Central government has sent 6.6 crore doses of vaccines to 93 countries as a goodwill gesture, but other countries’ Covid-19 load has been far lower than India. The vials were enough to vaccinate all people in Mumbai and Delhi. We wouldn’t have faced any shortage,” said Rais Shaikh, Samajwadi Party (SP) legislator and corporator from Nagpada.

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