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Vaccination pace still sluggish, lack of motivation keeping people away, say doctors

New Delhi The pace of Covid-19 vaccinations is sluggish in the city despite chief minister Arvind Kejriwal mandating that vaccination centres in Delhi will operate for 12 hours a day, from 9am and 9pm, in all Delhi government-run hospitals
PUBLISHED ON MAR 27, 2021 12:05 AM IST

New Delhi The pace of Covid-19 vaccinations is sluggish in the city despite chief minister Arvind Kejriwal mandating that vaccination centres in Delhi will operate for 12 hours a day, from 9am and 9pm, in all Delhi government-run hospitals. The government had also directed its hospitals to run six vaccination centres each on their premises.

Since the extended 12-hour vaccination drive began on Monday (March 22), on average, 34,027 jabs have been administered daily. On Friday, only 20,652 shots were administered across Delhi, of which 16,181 were first doses and the rest second doses.

In comparison, around 46,769 jabs – both first and second doses — were administered last Saturday, two days before the extended vaccination timings kicked in, government data said.

To scale up the capacity from 30,000 to 40,000 shots a day to 125,000 jabs daily, Kejriwal had announced that vaccination sites at Delhi government hospitals will run between 9am and 9pm from March 22. The government order from last Thursday read, “...all the Delhi Government hospitals will operate vaccination sites functioning in their premises up to at least 9pm.”

Government analysis so far, however, has shown that there has been an uptick in immunisation in the government centres as compared to private ones. The turnout rate at government centres had increased March 16 onwards, with the centres seeing a 72% turnout (against capacity) on March 18, compared to 49% in private facilities, according to data seen by HT.

Doctors from government hospitals, however, said the hospitals anyway had more capacity to vaccinate people. The challenge, they claim, lay in motivating people to come and get the shots.

During a spot check earlier this week, HT found that the vaccination centre at two out of three hospitals that this reporter visited, had closed by 5pm.

At trans-Yamuna region’s biggest Guru Teg Bahadur hospital, the tented waiting rooms outside its “walk-in” emergency department — it has now been converted into three vaccination centres — remained deserted on Tuesday. At 5:30pm, two staff nurses leaving the centre asked the reporter to return the following day between 9am and 5pm if she wanted to get the shot.

“We have a capacity for vaccinating 600 people, but there were only 144 shots administered throughout the day. People are not coming even between 9am and 5pm, they need to be motivated,” said Dr RS Rautela, medical director, Guru Teg bahadur hospital.

The “walk-in” emergency department had been set up in 2019 by the hospital to help triage patients outside its main emergency. Any patient who could walk by themselves and hence were thought to have a less severe problem could be treated at the one-hall structure.

The structure now houses all three vaccination counters running at the hospital.

According to a senior doctor at the hospital, the three sites itself have a capacity to inoculate 600 people. “However, we manage to vaccinate only about 300 to 350 people a day. The number hasn’t picked up despite increasing the capacity. The vaccination centres remain mostly vacant after around three in the afternoon. It is highly unlikely that people will come in at 7pm or 8pm to get their shots here,” said a doctor, on condition of anonymity.

Elsewhere, at the Rajiv Gandhi Super Speciality hospital, finding the vaccination centre itself was a challenge, with no proper signboard to guide beneficiaries to the vaccination centre behind the main hospital building. The tented waiting room outside was vacant and a lock hung on the door to the single-block vaccination centre at 6pm on Tuesday.

A guard stationed at the neighbouring building asked the reporter to return before 5pm the next day.

“Our vaccine doses haven’t been increased yet. The districts need to provide us with more manpower and furniture. We have only 200 doses allocated for the hospital and that usually runs out by afternoon. So, there is no point in running the centre till 9pm, just to have people come here and be turned away,” said Dr BL Sherwal, medical director, Rajiv Gandhi Superspeciality hospital, Tahirpur.

At the 2,000-bed Lok Nayak hospital, although all major gates to the staircase leading to the upper floors -- where the vaccination centres are located -- had been locked, a sign pointed to the one that remained open for Covid-19 vaccination on Wednesday at 7pm. Outside the site, there were nursing and police personnel who said anybody could get vaccinated 24x7 at the single operational site.

Between 9am and 5pm, the hospital runs another vaccination centre at the same location, with a third centre at the super-speciality hospital in the same compound.

The 24x7 vaccination centre at the hospital was not a new addition and has been functional for nearly a month now for administering shots to front-line workers who get off duty at odd hours.

“We have one centre running at all times. Not many people come to the hospital at night time. Usually, only 10 or maybe 20 come after 5pm, and that too mostly police and CRPF (para military) personnel. Anyone who comes to the hospital at any time can get their shot at the centre,” said Dr Suresh Kumar, medical director, Lok Nayak hospital.

The hospital vaccinates around 200 to 300 people a day, although it has a capacity to immunise over 600 persons.

“We need to increase the pace of vaccination – it will help in preventing deaths and controlling the surge in infections. The government should vaccinate everyone over the age of 18 in the six states that have started seeing an increase in the number of cases. All the vaccines from other states should be diverted; the others can wait for it. And, we need to vaccinate our teachers and anciliary staff and open up schools and college,” said Dr Jacob John, former head of the department of virology at Christian Medical College-Vellore.

The Delhi government refused to comment on the issue, despite repeated attempts.

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