Vaccination centres rise from 10 to 91, response still low
Despite the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s (BMC) move to increase vaccination centres across the city from ten – when the nationwide mass immunisation programme kicked off on January 16 – to 91 at present, inoculation has failed to gain the expected momentum.
Medical experts have largely cited a lack of awareness and scepticism about the vaccines for low turnout, in addition to the inability of senior citizens to reach vaccination centres that are located far away from their homes. With the spurt in Covid-19 cases during the ongoing second wave, doctors are advising the elderly suffering from comorbidities to avoid crowded vaccination centres since they are highly vulnerable to contract the infection, owing to their compromised immunity levels.
As against the civic body’s daily target of one lakh inoculations every day, the number of vaccine beneficiaries across three groups – healthcare workers, frontline workers and individuals, above the age of 45 – has barely crossed 45,000 to date.
Going by the civic body’s daily target, 10 lakh inoculations should have been registered over the last ten days (March 8 to 17). The number of vaccinations during the same period, however, stands at 2,45,383 across the three categories which include 2,22,301 senior citizens. This despite a progressive rise in the number of vaccination centres over the last ten days.
For instance, 40,502 were given shots at 65 centres on March 8, which on March 9 increased to 43,581 at 68 centres. On March 10, 42,702 people got inoculated at 71 centres. While the number dropped to 36,933 beneficiaries at 72 centres on March 11, the number of beneficiaries the next day increased to 44,264 at 77 centres. The turnout increased to 45,050 at the same 77 centres the next day. On March 15, the number of centres increased to 85, while the number of beneficiaries dropped to 44,683. It dropped further to 42,534 beneficiaries at 89 centres the next day. On March 17, almost a 10% drop was recorded with 38,369 beneficiaries at 91 vaccination centres.
Civic officials are hopeful that the number of inoculations will gradually increase. “When we started the vaccination, we recorded only 50% turnout in the initial few days. But we gradually achieved almost 100% turnout in most centres. There is still scepticism among the public about the vaccines,” said Suresh Kakani, additional municipal commissioner, BMC.
Emphasising the need to increase awareness among the public through social media, pamphlets, among other mediums, doctors said misinformation spreading on ‘WhatsApp University’ often discourages people from getting the vaccine shots.
“Now, with Covid-19 scare, people want to know about the details of the vaccination like its efficiency rate, probable side effects among others. So, once the civic body can gain their confidence, the number will shoot up,” said Dr Deepak Baid, president of the Association of Medical Consultant (AMC).
A section also highlighted the need to bring vaccination to the doorstep for better accessibility. “There is a need to introduce mobile vaccination vans which will help reach every corner of the city. BMC had taken up the same policy when they started screening public in slums for Covid-19,” said Ravi Raja, leader of opposition in BMC.
A senior BMC officer blamed the Central government for tying their hands. “Though the delivery of health care largely rests with the states since health is a state subject, the central government is not giving us enough lee-way,” said the officer.
Another senior health official said the Centre needs to change its approach. “To start vaccination centres in private hospitals, we have to send a list for approval to the Centre which often takes days. For instance, on March 9, we sent the names of 30 private hospitals to be included in the inoculation programme. But we haven’t got the approval so far. In fact, in many cases, if we send them 50 names of hospitals for approval, they select them in phases. This delays the whole process”
In response, Rajesh Bhushan, Union health secretary said hospitals, both private and government, which are empanelled under Ayushman Bharat-Pradhan Mantri Jan Aarogya Yojna, Central Government Health Scheme or any State Health Insurance scheme are automatically added to the list of covid vaccination centres with no need to send the list to the Central government.
“However, states that don’t have empanelled hospitals in any of the above-mentioned categories need to get their hospitals approved by the Centre as they need to fulfil the guidelines meant for Covid-19 vaccination centres, including sufficient space, cold chain etc facility. Since states such as Gujarat, Maharashtra and Delhi do not have empanelled hospitals they sent us the list for approval, and we only require them to ensure the list of hospitals fulfil the criteria. In Maharashtra, 419 hospitals have been approved,” he said.
The sudden surge in the number of Covid-19 is also dissuading people from taking the jab since it entails standing for hours in over-crowded centres. “Now that it is confirmed that we are facing the second wave, senior citizens are being advised to avoid visiting overcrowded centres which can make them vulnerable to contracting the infection. This to some extent, affects the overall turnout,” said Dr Gautam Bhansali, consultant physician at Bombay Hospital, Marine Lines.
Vaccination numbers at glance
Since the beginning of the nationwide mass immunisation programme on January 16, 1,36,114 healthcare workers of the 2.5 lakh registered have been immunised.
On February 4, BMC initiated inoculation for frontline workers at their centres. Of the 2 lakh who have registered, 1,26,644 have taken the jab.
On March 1, the civic body started the third phase of the mass vaccination programme for senior citizens and those above 45 years with co-morbidities. BMC during their My Family, My Responsibility door-to-door campaign found that there are more than 30lakh senior citizens. Till March 17, 3,28,168 or 11% above 60 years have been vaccinated, and 45,395 citizens above 45 years with comorbidities have taken the shot.