Halls were empty and the number of people seated in the vaccination waiting area sparse at AIIMS, New Delhi, mere hours after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the hospital, where he received the Covaxin jab.
“(It is) remarkable how our doctors and scientists have worked in quick time to strengthen the fight against Covid-19. I appeal to all those who are eligible to take the vaccine. Together, let us make India Covid free!" he tweeted.
In stark contrast, a line of makeshift canopies were erected in the backyard of Max Smart Super Specialty hospital in Delhi as senior citizens - parents and grandparents started pouring in from 9 am onwards, as soon as the CoWIN registrations went live. Many managed to register and others just decided to walk-in. Till afternoon there were at least 300 beneficiaries that had enrolled themselves for vaccination on day 1 at the hospital.
The Centre’s mission to inoculate senior citizens, thus, saw varying responses and a slow start in different parts of the national capital, with some hospitals seeing an overwhelming number of people and others seeing surprisingly low turnouts.
Most of these hospitals saw the vaccination process start at 12 pm, roughly 3 hours after the Co-WIN portal went live for registration.
“The Co-WIN system is only giving forenoon and afternoon slots and no specific time band...We decided to allot slots to walk-ins after 3 PM,” Dr Sahar Qureshi, medical superintendent, Max smart super specialty hospital said.
The first step was to queue to get the document and ID verified after which a token was handed out to each person. Since the Co-WIN system is yet to allow time slots, most of those who turned up had to wait for at least a couple of hours to get their chance for vaccination.
But for those who waited for weeks, a few more hours is a small inconvenience. “I will be less tense about catching Covid. Some sort of social interaction will now be possible. Youngsters in our family would also be less worried about going out,” Mridula Mujherjee, retired professor of JNU said as she waited her turn with her husband.
The slow speed at which doctors were able to upload each beneficiary data on the Co-WIN portal, further added to the time it took for the next person to get their turn. Many of those who came without registering faced problems with the Co-WIN system.
Many complained that they didn’t get the OTP while others weren’t able to see their names on the list on the site.
This meant that there was a line of senior citizens waiting at hospitals including Delhi’s Sir Ganga Ram Hospital from as early as 9-9:30 am to get vaccinated. Colonel Sanjay Mahajan, who had registered his mother, was furious because he did not receive an OTP to confirm the registration. “I should have taken a screenshot,” he says.
Others took it in their stride. “I had booked an appointment in the morning but didn’t receive any message from the portal, so I walked in at Ram Manohar Lohia hospital and took the jab,” said Sanjeev Ratan, a Delhi-based professional working in the financial sector.
“I have been trying to register for a while now, it’s just not happening,” says K L Malhotra, who landed at Ganga Ram directly in hopes of getting inoculated, but had to wait as the hospital was only vaccinating those who had registered online. Though the hospital had 5 sites for vaccination and was prepared for any complications, the drive finally began only after 1:30 pm.
Other hospitals in Delhi, such as Moolchand and Ram Manohar Lohia, also suffered because of similar glitches in the portal. Scores of people sat outside a sprawling garden in the Moolchand hospital, which delayed the process in the morning because of issues with the portal. The hospital was offering Serum Institute’s Covishield. According to Dr Madhu Handa, medical director, the hospital was slated to vaccinate over 200 people on Day 1 itself.
Ram Manohar Lohia hospital, which offered Covaxin, was allowing multiple walk-ins because of a glitch in the Co-WIN app. As of 2:30 pm, only 31 people had turned up to receive the jab, according to data available with the hospital. The hospital will be accommodating senior citizens until 3 pm every day, and catering to health care workers between 3 and 5 pm.
Various security arrangements were made to manage crowds. Police personnel had been deployed to manage the crowd. Multiple security personnell stood guard outside the new OPD Block at AIIMS where dignitaries such as MoS Jitendra Singh visited and received the jab.
As many awaited their token number to be called out at Max hospital, Savita (who only uses her first name), a police personnel said she herself had not got the shot yet even though she was counted among frontline workers. “I am waiting to get my date for the vaccine.”
The policewoman struggled to get the senior citizens to queue and put their chairs 6 feet apart. “It is hard to get such old people to listen to you.”
While many walked in the hospitals wishing for Covishield, several called the hospital in advance to find out which vaccine was being given before confirming their appointment.
“I am fine, don’t worry, don’t worry. I am absolutely fine,” said Prithvi Pal Singh, 66, as he reassured his wife, Kavaljeet Kaur, immediately after receiving a shot of the Covishield vaccine. Kaur, who was still waiting for her turn to get the jab, urged her husband to move to the observation room. “It does feel like hope and I’m glad I did it today,” said Singh
Private hospitals rolled out the carpet for vaccination to those aged above 60 and those older than 45 but with comorbidities, on Monday.
Next in line after Singh was Pravin Bahl, 72, who had been waiting since 11:30 am. “I’m sure about taking this. If something has to happen, it will happen, but what I can do is take care of myself and be prepared. This is my way of doing that,” said Bahl as she smiled and moved to the observation room with her husband.
The vaccination drive was not off to a smooth start though. There were other glitches as well that had nothing to do with the app. At MGS Super Speciality Hospital, Ravinder Kumar, 44, who has high blood pressure and is a diabetic, was forced to wait from 9 am, though he had his colleague Ramesh Kumar, also 44, for company. Both work at the Municipal Corporation of Delhi, and Ramesh said the department sent them to “increase the demand for the vaccine in the initial few days”. Though they didn’t receive the message after registration, the hospital told him they’ll get the vaccine today
The reason Ravinder and Ramesh had to wait was because they were the only ones to show up at the hospital. “We’ve only got these two people so far who will be administered Covaxin. A single vial has 20 doses. We’ll wait till at least ten people arrive as once the vial is opened, it needs to be administered within four hours,” said Dr Mousumi Sarmah, medical superintendent, MGS Super Speciality Hospital.
The entire basement was full of nurses and attendants hoping that the numbers would increase by next week. “I think once people are a little more confident about it, read up more and figure out the process, they’ll show up,” said Sarmah.
On one hand, where hospitals and people were waiting for the process to begin, Bharti Eye Hospital said they didn’t know by when would the process start; while Mahajan Eye Centre said there must have been a mistake as their name shouldn’t have been there in the list of private hospitals released by Delhi government. Dr Neha Rajput of Stars Dental Clinic said a team of three was trained only on Sunday and they didn’t receive the vaccines as of Monday morning. “You can register with us today but you’ll be inoculated later this week only.”
The corridor outside the vaccination area at Delhi’s G B Pant Hospital was deserted at 12 in the afternoon. Staff claimed that only health care workers were slated to be inoculated between 3-5 pm, and no one else.
At Delhi’s Kukreja Hospital and Heart Centre, registration issues kept many waiting. Even after registering, many weren’t able to see their names in the list and hence didn’t get the message needed to be inoculated
“I have been here since 9 am, and I can see the staff is trying. They’re cooperative, but if it’s a technical issue what can they do. It’s just the first day, it’ll get better,” says Roshan Anand, who is over 70 and had Covid six months back. “I’m over 70 and it has been six months since I tested positive for coronavirus. The wise thing is to get the vaccine. Modi ji ne subeh subeh lagwa liya, hum kyun darein phir. Hum bhi aaj lagwa lengay.”
Fortis hospitals in Delhi have kept post 3 pm slot for walk-in beneficiaries. “There will be many old people who may not be very tech-savvy and not be able to use the CoWIN to register. In our experience, CoWIN has worked fine and we are off to a good start,” said Bishnu Panigrahi, group head medical strategy, Fortis Healthcare.
In Delhi there were also many clinics and laboratories which were listed as vaccination centres but were not part of the inoculation drive. Two such facilities in south Delhi saw patients turning up in the morning enquiring about the vaccine. “We are trying to clarify with the government that we are not a Covid vaccination centre,” a staff at one of the eye clinics in south Delhi said.
Finally, a key issue which came to light was the class divide among recipients. The day was largely dominated by the affluent, who placed appointments online easily thanks to fast internet connections and modern laptops. Others eager to get the vaccine still struggled, due to lack of access, awareness, and computer literacy. Most government hospitals, which tend to the needs of low-income groups, saw little turnout, but hope that this would eventually change in upcoming weeks.