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Pending Vaccination of Flood Victims Poses Threat to Bihar’s Already Slow Inoculation Drive

As most of the flood areas are in rural regions, the ongoing COVID vaccination for these places has been badly affected since last week.
Bihar flood

File Photo.

Patna: Amid a shortage of Covid-19 vaccines in Bihar, a big challenge has emerged to vaccinate thousands of flood victims who have been either displaced, marooned or stranded in hundreds of villages in over dozen of districts in the state.

As most of the flood areas are in rural regions, except for some pockets in urban areas, the ongoing COVID vaccination has been badly affected since last week. Thousands of flood victims have been forced to take shelter on high rise embankments, national highways and government-run school buildings.

According to reports reaching to Patna from flood affected districts, health officials engaged in the ongoing COVID vaccination drive are reluctant to take risks to visit flooded areas by boat, particularly to marooned villages. This has badly hit the vaccination drives.

“Only one or two boats with health official teams for COVID vaccination were seen in the flooded areas. They might have visited a few marooned villages but most of those remained untouched. We have no information that any vaccination team visited displaced flood victims and vaccinated them so far,” said Amar, a Mehsi-based social activist in East Champaran, one of the worst flood-affected districts.

Amar said the government should set up relief centres for flood victims immediately to ensure their vaccination. Till date flood victims, mostly poor, have been battling for survival under the open sky and their priority is to access water and food, he said.

Mahender Yadav, the founder convenor of Koshi Navnirman Manch who works among flood victims in Koshi region, said that with poor health infrastructure and inadequate manpower, the COVID vaccination of flood victims would be a difficult task. “Now it is an early stage of flood in the state, areas under floods will increase day by day and number of population affected by floods will go up from thousands to millions. The government have to focus to vaccinate as many people as possible in floods affected areas.”

Mahendar told NewsClick from the flooded Supaul district that there is confusion and lack of awareness among flood victims about vaccination. “Flood victims are struggling, the state government is yet to formally set up relief camps for them on the ground. There is no arrangement for vaccination in flood affected areas.”

The situation in flood-stricken north Bihar remained grim following a rise in water levels of major rivers, officials said on Wednesday. With water levels rising in major rivers such as Bagmati, Koshi, Lakhandei, Gandak, Burhi Gandak and Kamla Balan, the flood water is threatening hundreds of villages. But the official websites of the Bihar Water Resources Department and the Bihar Disaster Management Department are silent on the number of villages marooned or inundated and on people displaced and affected by the floods. There is virtually no official update on the flood situation in the state.

Ironically, the unconfirmed deaths related to the floods are reported daily from flood affected areas.

Chief Minister Nitish Kumar on Wednesday conducted an aerial survey of the flood affected districts for a second consecutive day and directed concerned officials to arrange for COVID testing and vaccines at relief camps for flood victims. This raised eyebrows as the government agency is yet to open relief camps for flood victims.

According to the WRD's website, Bihar is the most flood-affected state, accounting for close to 17.2% of the total flood-prone area in the country. Out of 94.16 lakh hectares, 68.80 lakh ha (76% of North Bihar and 73% of South Bihar) is flood-prone. At present, 28 out of 38 districts in the state are flood-prone.

Last week, the state government launched a fresh vaccination drive to vaccinate six crore people in the next six months to protect them from COVID-19. However, most of the 38 districts in the state are reportedly facing vaccine shortages. The shortage has been evident in Patna itself in the last three days. The health department has informed that there would be no vaccination at 36 centres in Patna on Wednesday, a second consecutive day when not a single vaccine was administered in the vaccination centres in the state capital.On Monday, 32 vaccination centres were closed as well. If this is the case of Patna, one can only imagine the extent of vaccine shortages in other districts.

Like the state's other much-hyped official programmes, the first day of the vaccination drive on June 21 showed incredible numbers, with more than seven lakh people (7,29,332) vaccinated in the state.It was a single-day vaccination record for Bihar, but soon after, the vaccination drive slowed down.

Given the slow start, the a big question arises about the availability of vaccines and the number of people intended to be vaccinated per day on an average to ensure that targets are achieved in time. To achieve the target, there is a need to administer 4.54 lakh doses for four days a week, barring Wednesdays, Fridays (reserved for routine immunisation) and Sundays.

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