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Second COVID-19 wave: Primary health centres see a rush for vaccine

It’s around 11 am on a Wednesday. A health worker is busy handing out tokens to villagers who have gathered around him at the Padgha primary health centre off the Nashik highway in Maharashtra. Some 30-35 people are waiting in the central hallway. They are all here for a Covid vaccine shot.

Among them is 65-year old Lekhabai, who stays at Arjunali, a few kilometres away. She has come with her daughter-in-law and grandson. “Several people in my village got infected,” she says. “I was waiting for the vaccination drive to start closer to our home. I am a bit sceptical about getting the vaccine, but an ASHA worker told me that if I got vaccinated, at least I would not have to be hospitalised if I fell sick with Covid-19.”

Her turn comes and she is directed to the first floor.

The relatively large, squeaky clean PHC at Padgha has reserved three rooms for the vaccination — in one, a doctor checks the medical documents, blood pressure etcetera; in another, the shots are given; and the third one is where people have to mandatorily wait for 30 minutes after the jab. The process is smooth and is working like clockwork.

The PHC started the vaccination drive along with others in the state on March 8. Every day, 60-70 people are vaccinated here.

S G Pawra, the officer in-charge, says significant manpower has been allocated for the Covid-19 vaccination — from registering the villagers on the Co-WIN app to administering the vaccine, record keep­ing and so on. “We are doing the drive three days a week and so far, we have not crossed the 100-mark in a single day,” Pawra says.

In his room are two giant refrigerators with the UNICEF mark on them. In these are stored the vaccine doses. The PHC or­ders vaccines every week, according to its schedule, and does not stock beyond that.

The crowd has swelled since last Monday after fears of a second wave gripped the nearby villages.

In the rural and semi-urban areas of Chennai, Tamil Nadu, too, the sentiment towards vaccination has turned in just two weeks. Not long ago, healthcare workers were going from door to door in the Maduran­takam municipality, around 100 km from Chennai, urging people to turn up for vaccination.

With cases rising, the walk-ins have now grown manifold at Madurantakam. In a day, the PHC here was getting not more than two or three vaccine-seekers. Now, at least 50-60 people turn up daily.

M K Varadan, a 50-year-old local businessman, was impressed by the process. “It was quite streamlined,” he says. “It took me only 45 minutes to get vaccinated and leave.”

The eagerness to get vaccinated increased after villagers saw that there weren’t many adverse events among their acquaintances who had taken the shot. Dhamu, a real estate agent in Madu­rankatam who has come to the PHC with his entire family, says, “We wanted to wait for a few more months to see if there were any side-effects to the vaccine. But now because the numbers are surging again, we have decided to take the jab.”

Some, however, remains sceptical.

Sobhan Singh, a 65-year-old retired state government employee from Bakshi Ka Talab in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, is yet to make up his mind about the vacc­ine. Singh’s 36-year-old son, who worked with a leading retail brand in Lucknow, lost his job during the lockdown. The family, which now subsists on Singh’s me­agre pension, is wary of any side-eff­ects of the vaccine. The fear of a potential health risk from the vaccine complicating their lives further is keeping them away.

Bakshi Ka Talab, some 15 km from Lucknow city, off the busy Lucknow-Sitapur highway, serves a rural population of 200,000, of which around 15 per cent are above 60. The community health centre here has vaccinated 4,000 people until now.

Manpower crunch
A few weeks into the inoculation drive, the PHCs seem to be managing well. Vaccine wastage at Khadavli PHC, around 10 km from Padgha in Thane district, has been almost nil.

P Khankar, facility in-charge of Kha­d­avli, says they turn back two-three people if they feel they need to open a new pack of vaccines at the end of the day. “Or we vaccinate some of our workers with the second dose. We have never wa­s­ted more than one or two doses in a day.”

The drive is expected to soon expand to grassroots level. Each PHC typically covers 6-7 sub-centres. Once the drive reaches the sub-centre level, the doses will travel in vaccine carriers to the sub-centre or the local school where vaccinators will administer the doses. At the end of each day, the left-over doses will be brought back to the PHC to be refrigerated.

This would require more manpower. Khadavli PHC has already hired a new auxiliary nurse midwife (ANM) for Rs 700 per day to help with the Covid-19 vaccination. The PHC has been inoculating 40-50 people daily and running the drive thrice a week. Moreover, as vaccination opens up for all above 45 years, the rush is expected to increase manifold.

Several residents of the city suburbs pr­efer to come to PHCs to get the shot as it is less crowded here, Khankar says.

Manpower might be a concern, but in terms of infrastructure these PHCs seem to be ready. For instance, the Padgha PHC, which caters to 46 villages and a population of 62,000, is paying an electricity bill of Rs 35,000 or so (for two months) since it now has a full-fledged RT-PCR laboratory with minus 80 and minus 20 degree Celsius deep freezers. These could come in handy if a vaccine requiring sub-zero temperature is allocated to the centre.

So far, the PHCs have been vaccinating people with Covishield. But come April 1, they expect the first batches of the indigenous vaccine, Covaxin, to reach them. Business Standard