On 22 June, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar launched a campaign called ‘Six Crore Vaccinations in Six Months’ with a view to accelerate the vaccination process. The vaccination campaign is presently going on at a slow pace even as a huge population is awaiting vaccination.
Bihar’s healthcare system is in a shambles due to the lack of proper health infrastructure and a dearth of doctors and other medical staff has rendered. So, the state government thought of vaccinating as much population as possible before the commencement of the third wave of Covid-19 which may hit India in mid-August and reach Bihar in September. But this vaccination campaign seems to have hit many a roadblock.
The vaccination programme was launched in India on 16 January. Six months have passed since, but so far only 2.18 crore people could be vaccinated in Bihar till 24 July. While 33 lakh of them have got both doses, 1.84 crore, who have got the first dose, are still awaiting the second dose. Patna with 24,67,473 people vaccinated, tops in vaccination drive whereas Sheikhpura stands at the bottom with just 1,38,091 people vaccinated so far. Except for Patna no district has crossed the 10 lakh mark till 24 July. This means if the vaccination pace remains the same, it will take one and a half years to reach the target of six crore.
According to the experts, vaccination drives need to be sped up to achieve the target. But the ground reality is that no initiative has so far been taken to accelerate the process. This is evident from the vaccination data collected after the vaccination of ‘six crore vaccinations in six months’ campaign indicates so.
69 lakh vaccinations in 33 days
According to the data made available by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, only 69,08,590 people could be administered the vaccine in 33 days of the commencement of the campaign in Bihar. This means on average only 2,09,351 people were vaccinated daily.
Bhagalpur is among the worst affected districts in the state. Here, of the 41 lakh population, only 8.39 lakh could be vaccinated so far. Many a time, the vaccination drive had to be suspended for want of vaccine. The vaccination drive could resume on July 3 only in urban areas, but this too could not sustain beyond the opening day. Not a single soul could be vaccinated the next day.
Speaking to this correspondent, Dr. Umesh Sharma, the Bhagalpur civil surgeon, said, “At times, we face a shortage of vaccines. As we run out of the vaccine, we have no option but to stop the process. This is hampering the drive and if the issue is not sorted out in time, we won’t be able to meet the vaccination target.”
He, however, sounded optimistic about the vaccination process in the urban population when he said, “We aim for 100% vaccination here and hope to achieve the target as soon as possible. We have already vaccinated over 50 percent of the population.”
In Rohtas district, only 5,46,542 people could be able to get the vaccine jab by July 10. Of these, 4,73,490 have received the first dose while 73,052 have been administered the second dose.
There are in all 10 vaccination centers in Rohtas. But according to Dr Sudhir Kumar, Rohtas civil surgeon, as the vaccine is in short supply they are unable to carry out the vaccination drive at every center on a daily basis. “Sometimes, we have to stop the vaccination due to non-availability of vaccine,” he lamented.
Even in the Gardanibag Government Hospital in Patna city, the vaccine is not being administered to the people daily due to the erratic supply of the vaccine. On July 13, when people came to the hospital for the vaccine, they were greeted by a notice reading: “Due to shortage of vaccines the vaccination would remain suspended today”. The next day, only Covaxin was available at the centre.
Third-wave at the doorstep
The third wave of Covid-19 is expected to hit the country in August this year. SBI Research, while releasing a report in the first week of July, said that the third wave will peak in September.
The report said, “The second wave of Covid-19 had reached its peak on May 7. According to the current data, there may be a spurt in the cases of Covid-19 from the second fortnight of August.”
No one knows what the effect of the third wave will be. It is possible to ascertain whether it will be more dangerous or lighter than the second wave. No one knows what the third wave is going to be like. However, it is imperative to make adequate preparations well in advance to avoid any eventuality.
In the context of Bihar, we are well aware of the sorry state of health infrastructure. The patient-doctor ratio here is among the worst in the country. Such is the shortage of doctors in the state that AYUSH doctors, who do not have any expertise to deal with epidemics, were put on Covid-19 duty during the second wave.
The state does not have enough primary health centres. Hospitals do have ventilators, but there is no technician to operate them. There is no guarantee that the health infrastructure will be strengthened by the next month. Under the circumstances, vaccination is the only solace for the residents. Hence, more and more people should be vaccinated. Efforts are being made at the grassroots level to make people aware of the vaccination through local representatives as well as doctors.
The Indian Medical Association (Bihar Chapter) has decided to adopt Bihar villages to run awareness campaigns. IMA doctors said every member of the organization has been asked to adopt at least two villages and spread awareness there about the benefits of the vaccines.
The 12,000 doctors affiliated to IMA (Bihar Chapter) believe that given the poor health infrastructure in the state, it will be difficult to fight the third wave without vaccination of a maximum number of people.
Lamenting the shortage of vaccines, Diwakar, mukhiya of Ramai Panchayat of Forbesganj block under Araria district, said, “We worked very hard to make people aware. But now that people are ready to take the shot, there is a shortage of vaccines.”
Diwakar claimed that 80 percent of the eligible people in his panchayat have been vaccinated. “For the remaining 20 percent, we need additional vaccine so that not a single person returns empty-handed. Otherwise, people won’t turn up for vaccines a second time,” he said.
Time is running out. The administration should address the issue of vaccine shortage on a priority basis before it’s too late. Unless more and more people are vaccinated in the state before the deadline, there will be disastrous consequences of the third wave which is literally at the doorstep.
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The opinion expressed in the article is of the writer. Writer is a freelance journalist/journalist based in Delhi