The shortage of COVID-19 doses has led to a messy vaccination drive in Tami Nadu. However, right from the health minister to anganwadi workers, several ways are being followed to ease the process.
On the one hand, the government is trying to handle the vaccine pressure in urban centres like Chennai and Coimbatore. On the other hand, village health nurses (VHN) are being asked to encourage people to get vaccinated in rural areas.
As of June 15, only 11.2% of Tamil Nadu’s population had received at least one dose and 2.8% were fully vaccinated. Till date, the state has received around 1.22 crore doses to vaccinate the entire adult population of 5.8 crore. With two doses each, the state will require 11.6 crore doses of vaccine.
Although more vaccines are being sent to densely populated urban areas, there is still overcrowding in cities. People head to vaccine centres as early as 5 a.m to collect tokens, which are given out on a ‘first come, first served’ basis, yet, many are turned down and return disappointed.
While vaccine hesitancy is still there, the death of near and dear ones due to COVID-19 in the ongoing wave, especially in the metropolitan cities, has instilled fear and is pushing people toward inoculation.
THE MANY EFFORTS TO GET A JAB
Conversations with primary health centre staff, village health nurses and residents across cities show that some perseverance is required from the public to get vaccinated. Sometimes the wait is long or the vaccine meant for them may not be available on a given day, but people will need patience in this fight against the virus, especially in a scenario of vaccine shortage.
A 60+ aged South Chennai resident said: “Yesterday (Wednesday) I went to three different centres trying to get my second dose of Covishield, but I was not successful. Today, I took an appointment with my daughter-in-law’s office vaccination drive and got jabbed.”
Another resident said: “I took my mother to get her first jab, the wait was long for the 45 to 60 age group. Meanwhile, I requested a slot for myself under the 18 to 44 age group and got jabbed”.
Ram, a resident of central Chennai said: “My partner and I went to the vaccine centre before 9 a.m, there were so many people waiting ahead of us. We waited till 10:30 a.m and got vaccinated. We were the lucky ones, as many who came after us and didn’t get the jab.”
“Given that Coimbatore - both urban and rural - was badly affected by COVID-19, people are keen on getting vaccinated. They go to the vaccine centres as early as 5 a.m, but within 10 minutes all the tokens are distributed” said Kanakaraj, a Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI) leader from Coimbatore, adding: “How can 200 tokens be distributed in such a short time? It is evident that the ruling-party DMK is up to some tricks”.
Kanakaraj said “information dissemination is, however, better now, after DYFI’s demand for daily press releases was implemented by the Coimbatore Corporation. Nowadays at 9 p.m we get information of the day’s COVID-19 details and vaccine details for the next day. This is easing the vaccine drive”.
A resident of Kanyakumari also alleged irregularity in token distribution.
A token system distribution is also in place in Madurai, another urban district. “There are 31 centres, each receiving around 150 vaccines a day. If more people turn up, a list of their names and phone numbers are made and they are notified on the vaccine centre for the next day. This way, we avoid crowding and ensure little wastage” said Sujatha, a health worker from Madurai.
“Many community volunteers are also taking active part in easing the process. They mobilise people in large numbers and visit the vaccine centre” she added.
Bharathi from Madurai said: “My house owner, who is above 45 years of age, got the vaccine more easily than many of us in the 18 to 45 age group”.
A vaccine camp in Dharmapuri. Image courtesy: Sanjeevalakshmi
Sanjeevalakshmi, a VHN in Dharmapuri, said: “We get around 200 vaccines a day, which suffices for only half the crowd that visits the centres. Earlier, we prodded people to come and get vaccinated, but they were hesitant, now they are coming in large numbers, but there is a shortage”.
She said: “Each day is different. Today, doses were given only for Covishield second dose takers in the 45 plus age group. We have prioritised, and people should make efforts to find out about it so that they don’t go back disappointed.”
“We get around 500 vaccines per day, and people are inoculated in camps arranged in common places. Even if there is a vaccine shortage or people are returned because vials cannot be opened for less than 10 people, the camps are in the neighbourhood, so they come back the next day” said Vino, a staff at a primary health centre in Ramnad district.
Vimala Devi, a VHN from Trichy said: “More and more people are interested in getting vaccinated these days. We vaccinate on priority basis. Today it was only for the disabled”.
A vaccination camp in Trichy. Image courtesy: Vimala Devi
In this textile hub, many people are looking at the positive side of the situation, they say that unlike earlier, the vaccine situation is better in Tamil Nadu and more people are getting the jab.
“The situation is better than before. The token system has eased the confusion. For people reaching out to get information, details regarding vaccine camps and booths are easily available” said Gowri Shankar, a DYFI activist from Tiruppur.
Sulochana, an anganwadi worker from Nilgiris district said “till last week, vaccine supply was erratic, but in the past few days we have been receiving continuous supply. We, Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) workers, are going house-to-house, as instructed, to encourage residents to get vaccinated. The process is smooth.”
Tamil Nadu announced it will ensure 100% vaccination of select groups, such as tribals, employees of tea estates, and residents of tourist destinations. Thereby, Nilgiris, the hill-station district, is on the priority list.
However, with the new stock of vaccines -- 6,72,240 doses of COVID-19 vaccines — 4,67,210 doses of Covishield and 2,05,030 doses of Covaxin — received on June 23, the situation should further ease in Tamil Nadu.
THE EFFORTS OF VILLAGE HEALTH NURSES
Village health nurses (VHN) have the task of ensuring that people turn up for vaccination when a neighbourhood camp is organised. A lot depends on the work of these ground level workers.
“Disabled people are getting vaccinated without creating a fuss, but getting the vehicles ready and going to each house is a big task in rural areas. Most often, the VHN are contributing from their own pockets and their own time to complete this task” said Komathi, a state-level office-bearer of the Anganwadi Workers' Union.
Sathya, a nurse in Tirupattur said: “Once we get the information that a vaccine camp is being set up in a locality, we inform everyone in the neighbourhood. People are showing interest, they have created a WhatsApp group in which we post information. I regularly get calls inquiring about vaccination. We tell them to come in batches of 10, so that we can open a vial and not waste doses”.
Alice of Ariyalur district said: “We go house to house, encouraging people to get vaccinated. We even share photos of people getting vaccinated in WhatsApp groups. We get all kinds of questions from people which we answer”.
Komathi said: “We are trying our best, but it is difficult to be organised when vaccines are in such short supply and erratic”.
VACCINE STIGMA FAR FROM OVER
The rush for vaccines has sidelined the discussion on vaccine stigma, which is still prevalent across Tamil Nadu.
Saraswathi, a VHN from Thirupattur, said: “When we go on ground to encourage people to get vaccinated, some people tell us “you are here to kill us”, especially the older ones. In our neighbourhood, two people died within 20 days of getting the jabs, so fear looms large among a section of the people.”
“We tell them that if they follow our instructions, nothing will go wrong. We give them dietary instructions, and tell them to avoid air-conditioners, get rest for two days and take tablets if they fall sick, but they do not take the jab seriously” she added.
Even though Chennai saw a massive surge in COVID-19 cases not so long ago, not everyone is convinced about the vaccines. Anand, one of the Greater Chennai Corporation volunteers said: “The sanitary inspector directed us to inoculate the MGR Nagar Market workers because they are at a high risk of being infected, but many of them refused to get vaccinated. We had no option, the vaccines meant for them were given to others”.
However, on the positive side, “some people have relatives in big cities like Bangalore who tell them that they paid Rs 1,500 per jab and that too after waiting for 45 days. Realising that it is an important vaccine and they are getting it easier than others, many people have stepped forward'' said Sathya.
Another reason for the vaccine rush is that many workplaces have made it mandatory.