Vaccine Seekers Left In The Lurch In Election-Obsessed West Bengal

Kolkata: A central government auditor managed to get the COVID vaccine after being rejected thrice by three vaccination centres over a period of one week. On Wednesday, he had to wait for five hours before getting his first shot.

An 80-year-old and his son had to return home without being vaccinated after waiting for three hours at a private hospital. They were told a vaccine consignment would arrive, but it didn’t.

Cases like these are aplenty in Kolkata and other districts in West Bengal, which went through eight phases of polling over a period of 34 days.

At a time when the SARS CoV-2 variant B.1.167 is wreaking havoc and death toll rising exponentially, election-struck West Bengal has been hit hard by shortage of vaccines. Chaos ruled at several private COVID vaccination Centres (CVCs). The scenario was no different at government centres.

Around 4 lakh vaccines arrived in Kolkata on Wednesday at the Central Medicine Store (CMS), Baghbazar, where the vaccine vials are stored.

The arrival of a fresh stock of vaccines would have brought cheer to millions of people wanting to be inoculated. But to their chagrin, the CMS remained closed till April 29 as it was polling day in north Kolkata on Thursday and the CMS happens to be a polling booth.

How justified or logical is that? Why should the CMS be serving as vaccination booth at a time when the pandemic is raging and vaccine is the main lifeline?

To add to the misery of vaccine seekers, a recent notice said that all private CVCs will have to return the remaining stock of vials to the nearest cold chain point (CCP) after April 30.

“The private hospitals and industrial establishments willing to provide vaccination services may procure doses directly from the manufacturers exclusively for their hospitals,” the order said.

Another missive from the Union Health and Family Welfare states: “50% of the vaccine supplies from the manufacturers are earmarked for supply to Government of India. These vaccines will be supplied to states/UTs for existing prioritised beneficiaries only, that is, healthcare workers, frontline workers and persons aged above 45 years.”

The letter also stated: “Vaccination of any other person between 18-44 years age-group has to be done through vaccine supplies procured by ‘other than GoI channel’.”

Medica Superspeciality Hospital chairman Dr Alok Roy is worried how things will pan out from May 1.

“The problem is how do we get the vaccines? Both Serum Institute of India (SII) and Bharat Biotech are telling us that they are ramping up their supplies but we should go to them in a group. Vaccination for the 45-plus population will continue. There is no clarity though on what will happen to the 18-44 age-group,” he opined.

The hospital said post-May 5, they are unsure whether they will get any supplies from the government, and if they do, how much will it be.

“The struggle will be for next four months. By the end of four months, the graph will come down,” Dr Roy added.

Head Brand and Communication of Fortis Hospitals Partha Sarathi Ganguly is also worried about vaccine shortage.

“We do not have enough vaccines. We are inoculating around 400-450 people daily. The procurement of vaccines from May 5 in the state is not very clear to us. We are waiting till April 30 when we expect a clear picture to emerge. Also, there is no clarity on pricing. But we expect the shortage to continue. Right now, we are only vaccinating people who have got their first dose.”

AMRI Hospitals, which is managing with limited supplies, put out ‘No Covaxin available’ notice at one of its three units.

“We do not have the clarity on how we can get the vaccine. We had a meeting with the state authorities on Tuesday, where we were told that the state is writing to the Centre that the state, as nodal authority, will procure the vaccines on behalf of the private hospitals. We will have to wait for another 3-4 days to get any idea on this. We hope we will have vaccines to start the process of inoculating 18 and above from May 5,” AMRI Hospitals group CEO Rupak Barua said.

Amid the gloom, though, there were sparks of encouraging news. Russia-manufactured Sputnik V, to be manufactured by Indian companies, will initially be imported with the first consignment arriving in India on May 1. Sputnik V will be available in the open market from second week of May.

The other good news was reduction of Covishield and Covaxin prices for the state by Serum Institute and Bharat Biotech, respectively.

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