Tucked away in a corner on the eighth floor of Rajkumari Amrit Kaur outpatient block at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in New Delhi, people excitedly queue up next to a photo booth that proudly exclaims: ‘I got my Covid-19 vaccine today!’ Wearing green wrist bracelets — that signify their vaccination status — they pose happily for friends and families to have their pictures clicked.
In another corner, nursing officers turn people away, asking them to come back the following day. “It is 4 pm and we are out of vials. We are seeing more people than we had anticipated,” says a nursing attendant to his associate.
“We have five vaccine sites. Every site gets 200 vaccines. We have reached Thursday’s limit,” an officer tells a family.
Says Dr Varsha Kashyap of AIIMS, “We have over 50 people waiting right now. It will take at least half an hour to vaccinate them. Almost 1,000 people got vaccinated on Thursday. No side-effects have been reported as yet.”
On Thursday, India entered the third phase of the largest inoculation drive amid sharp uptick in Covid cases with everyone above the age of 45 now eligible for the life-saving jab.
To push the vaccination drive, the government decided that both public and private sector centres would vaccinate on all days in April, including gazetted holidays.
“This step has been taken after detailed deliberations with states/Union Territories on March 31 to optimally utilise all Covid vaccination centres across public and private sectors to ensure rapid increase in the pace and coverage of Covid vaccination,” said a health ministry statement.
Hospitals have started procuring additional doses from the government in anticipation of the demand for the vaccines.
Max Super Specialty Hospital in New Delhi, for instance, has stocked 6,000 doses for a week to cater to the demand across 10 of its centres at the hospital.
Staff at AIIMS, which administers Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin, says most people coming for their first dose are registering through the CoWIN application (app). Thursday’s footfall surprised them. “This is in stark contrast to Day 1,” adds Kashyap.
The uptake at Dr Ram Manohar Lohia (RML) Hospital was initially unhurried due to vaccine scepticism, with more people opting for Covishield over Covaxin, but Dr Palak Dhiman of RML feels the tables are turning.
“Initially there was hesitancy. Even medical workers didn’t want Covaxin, but both citizens and medics are more confident now because of the trial data and also because of the controversies around Covishield. The confidence in vaccines, however, continues to grow, with Covaxin ticking more boxes.”
Milan Ahir, 65, who accompanied his wife for her first dose agrees with Dr Dhiman. “I was here for my first dose on March 1. Very few people showed up, mostly walk-ins. But it’s much smoother now. The government has done a good job. I feel there is greater acceptance for Covaxin today.”
In a striking difference, Delhi’s Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, that saw frenetic activity when the drive began for the general public even amid app glitches, saw lukewarm response on Thursday. At 2 pm, the hospital had vaccinated only 146 people — mostly walk-ins. The hospital expects the demand to go up over the weekend.
“The footfall is lesser than anticipated. We have enough vaccines in stock and can easily go up to 2,000 shots daily. The services can be extended round the clock if required,” said Sahar Qureshi, medical superintendent, Max Smart Super Speciality Hospital.
Ashish Sethi, 49, who went to Sir Ganga Ram with his wife, said he trusted the vaccine. “I think it’s the right thing to do, especially when cases are increasing,” said Sethi.
“There is a substantial increase in volumes. We have almost doubled our procurement. It has been fairly smooth on the first day of this new phase,” said Anil Vinayak, group chief operating officer, Fortis Healthcare.
Gurugram has also allowed hospitals to set up camps in corporate houses or factories, such as the Maruti Suzuki plant, for vaccinating the eligible personnel.
“As a pilot, the government should select some sites at corporate facilities. Issuing guidelines for such sites should be refined as we go along,” added Vinayak.