Lucknow: Lokesh Bharti (39) had a vaccination slot booked on Wednesday at a government district hospital in Satrikh in Barabanki district of Uttar Pradesh but he was shocked to learn that the centre had run out of Covishield vaccine shots. Bharati travelled around 30 km on his bicycle in scorching heat to get the first jab, visited three community health centres, but none of them had any doses.
"I went to three different centres - the district hospital in Barabanki and two other community health centres - but none of them had any doses. Most of the people in the region returned empty-handed due to the shortage of vaccines. Now that there is awareness among people about the vaccine, there is an acute shortage," Bharti told Newsclick.
According to a health official, in Barabanki, more than 17,000 people were being vaccinated through 176 booths in one day. However, for the last three days, it has come down to around 8,000 people due to the "unavailability of vaccines". Even though the health department had said the drive would continue as usual on Wednesday, it had to be cancelled as no doses arrived.
The shortage of vaccines in many districts of Uttar Pradesh continues to disappoint the public who come to the vaccination centres in large numbers and return home without getting vaccinated after a long wait. The Uttar Pradesh government on Wednesday halted the vaccination drive in 16 districts due to a “shortage” of Covishield doses amid a rise in COVID-19 cases in the state. No COVID-19 vaccination drive was conducted in Agra, Gorakhpur, Varanasi and Prayagraj (also known as Allahabad), Jhansi, Barabanki and many other places.
Uttar Pradesh has set a new record of administering more than 8 lakh doses of the Covid-19 vaccine. The state administered 8.63 lakh doses on June 24 across 8,510 centres in all 75 districts. Right after June 24, when 8.63 lakh vaccinations were carried out, the number went down to 5.54 lakh the next day. The vaccination drive gained momentum again on Monday when 5.23 lakh vaccinations were undertaken but went down again to just 1.85 lakh on Tuesday. Just 68,693 persons were vaccinated on the last day of the drive.
As per the Uttar Pradesh Health department, the total number of vaccinations took place in the state so far reached 3.13 crore. Over 2.68 crore of them has taken the first dose while 44.88 lakh are fully vaccinated.
With vaccination drive for the 18-44 years age group, 1.17 crore persons in the 18 to 44 years have taken the vaccine while 1.14 crore persons have taken the vaccine in the 45 to 60 year age bracket. In the 60-plus group, 81.77 lakh persons have been vaccinated.
Navneet Sehgal, Additional Chief Secretary of Information in the Uttar Pradesh government, accepted the slow pace of vaccination in the state. He stated that it would soon "achieve the target". "In June against the target to administer one crore vaccines, the state has inoculated 1.30 crore people. The government is aiming to reach between 10 to 12 lakh vaccination drive per day in July while it would further increase in the month of August by a 10 crore figure," he said.
Meanwhile, a factory worker in Noida was upset since he had to return home twice without the jab due to the unavailability of vaccines. The factory owner had asked him to get the vaccine by the third week of July and submit a certificate or look for another job.
"There is a shortage of vaccine in and around Noida and if a slot is available at any centre, it goes unavailable in five minutes. My employer is continuously asking me to get the first jab and submit the certificate, how would I explain these issues," Deka, a worker from Chattisgarh told Newsclick, adding that he was rendered jobless for the last one year due to the lockdown and the one imposed this year to contain the spread of the second wave of Covid-19. "If I would not get the first dose of vaccine, he might not allow me to come to work and I will be penniless again," said a distraught Deka, the sole breadwinner for five family members.
Similarly, a 34-year-old assistant professor at a private college in the state capital Lucknow has also been struggling to get the first dose of Covishield vaccine. He was too asked by the school management to get the first jab by the second week of July, or otherwise not to complain if his salary is deducted.
"I recently joined as an assistant professor here and I'm very upset ever since the management asked me to submit the Covid-19 vaccine certificate and then take classes. I tried many a time to book the slot and went there but found the centre deserted as there is a crisis of vaccines," he told Newsclick on the condition of anonymity, adding that he had read the Chota Imambara converted into a mega vaccination centre with the walk-in system but it also faced a shortage of vaccination.
Meanwhile, vaccination still remains an uphill task in backward districts like Shravasti, Sonbhadra, Banda and Bahraich, which are facing similar issues.
"The pace of the corona vaccination is slowing down every passing day due to non-availability of vaccines. Only 3,356 people could be vaccinated on Tuesday in Gorakhpur. Of these, 2,232 were given the first and 1,124 were given the second dose," said district immunisation officer Dr NK Pandey, adding that the booths would be increased only after the availability of the vaccine.
The situation in Varanasi, the parliamentary constituency of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, was no different. On Tuesday, the vaccine was administered only at 29 centres in the district. According to the data collected by the chief medical officer's (CMO) office, Varanasi, more than 19,000 people were vaccinated at 112 centres in Varanasi on Monday, but due to a shortage of vaccines, only 11 out of 29 centres received the first dose on Tuesday while at 18 centres received the second dose.
Raja Bhaiya, convenor of Vidya Dham Samiti, an NGO in Banda, said that his organisation launched an awareness campaign on coronavirus vaccination in 90 rural and remote areas in the district cluster wise by singing folk songs and also staging street plays. The organisation also helped people to register on the CoWin website as most of them were not tech-friendly. "We managed to convince villagers to get vaccinated as it is useful for them and they are getting ready gradually, but unfortunately there is an acute shortage of vaccines in Banda too. If the district administration organised a Covid-19 vaccination camp, a large number of people gather there to get dose but most of them returned disappointed after failing to get their jab due to shortage," Raja Bhaiya told Newsclick, adding that the ration distributors asked the villagers to get the vaccine first and show the certificate to get the ration for their quota. "Similar notice was sent to employees by the Banda district magistrate who asked them to get the vaccine if they do not want to stop their salary. When the district is running out of vaccine shots, where will people go now?" he asked.