Mumbai: As the central government ruled out door-to-door vaccination drive, Mumbai residents have come up with the next best option — Covid-19 vaccine camps in housing societies.
In the past week, several cooperative housing societies across Mumbai have procured vaccines from private hospitals and set up camps within their premises.
These societies have turned their clubhouses, open podiums and parking areas into makeshift vaccination centres, demarcating waiting areas, vaccination areas and observation areas.
The housing society members have been using online forms to gather data from those willing to get vaccinated. Teams of volunteers also help upload the information on CoWin, coordinate with the hospital staff and supervise every aspect on the day of the drive.
Organisers of these drives are also inoculating household domestic help, society’s support staff such as caretakers and gardeners, and neighbourhood vendors of essential services.
Single doses are being made available for Rs 1,000 to Rs 1,200. In most cases, the cost of vaccinating the domestic help and support staff is borne by the society’s residents.
“It is all plug and play. Our clubhouse looks more like a hospital than a clubhouse now. We ensure the waiting time is negligible, and we insist on social distancing and double masking,” Sarika Poddar, secretary of the elite Ashoka Towers in Parel, told ThePrint. Ashoka Towers was one of the first societies to conduct a Covishield vaccination camp last month and is scheduled to hold a Covaxin camp this month.
On 7 May, the BMC had issued detailed guidelines permitting housing societies and private companies to tie up with private hospitals directly to hold Covid vaccination drives.
While a number of housing societies in Mumbai had approached private hospitals for a tie-up soon after the civic body’s guidelines came out, the vaccine stocks were only available after 20 May.
Society drives helpful for 18-44 age group, domestic help
The Gokuldham Reserve Bank of India office quarters in Goregaon was the first housing society to set up a Covid vaccination camp within its premises on 21 May. The society administered Covaxin shots to about 400 residents with the help of Fortis Hospital.
Meanwhile, the first Covishield vaccination drive was started in a housing society called Atmosphere in the eastern suburb of Mulund Monday.
Thereafter, Parel’s sprawling Ashoka Towers became the first housing society to inoculate 1,000 people with Covishield shots.
The society vaccinated about 600 staff members, including domestic help, drivers, gardeners, housekeeping staff, and their families, and 400 society residents and their extended families for Rs 1,050 per dose.
According to Poddar, “Getting hold of vaccines was very difficult. No private hospital had stock till about 10 days ago. I was in touch with seven to eight hospitals. Then, Fortis very generously promised me 1,000 doses.”
In the last week, nearly 20 societies have organised such camps in only one suburb of Chembur.
Chembur’s Safal Twins housing society, which administered 530 doses of Covishield Saturday and received the vaccines from the local Surana Sethia Hospital, is one of them.
Pankaj Bindra, who helped organise the camp, said, “A number of people in their 30s and 40s who were not easily getting slots on CoWin benefitted from the drive. Some elderly persons too who were unable to go to a vaccination centre could get the shot as they only had to come down from their house to the common area.”
Bindra noted that the drive also helped some residents, society’s support staff and domestic help get over their vaccine hesitancy.
“A lot of the domestic workers, vendors and other support help were hesitant to register citing reasons such as being scared of the syringe, or not having documents, or simply being afraid of what the vaccine might do to their health. We could convince them to register since it was a safe environment and their employers were taking the shots too,” he told ThePrint.
“Then some residents who were initially not planning on getting vaccinated changed their mind as people they regularly interact with were getting the shot,” Bindra added.
The drives have turned out to be especially helpful for those in the 18-44 age group, who have been struggling to get slots on the government portal CoWin due to the limited availability of doses.
Rohit Shetty, a 37-year-old resident of Mumbai’s western suburb of Malad, said, “My wife and I tried endlessly to book vaccination slots on the CoWin website since 1st May 2021. But, it was like a game of ‘Fastest Fingers First’ and getting a slot was like winning a lottery. After a series of unsuccessful attempts over a period of 3 weeks, we finally gave up.”
Shetty and his wife eventually got their first doses of Covishield at a camp organised by a housing society, where his wife’s childhood friend lives.
“It gets very convenient when the jab is available at one’s doorstep. It benefits residents of all age groups and one feels much safer due to the limited number of people around, against standing in a queue for hours at a hospital/vaccination centre,” he added.
BMC keen on more housing society camps
Even the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation has been encouraging these vaccination camps in housing societies.
“A number of private hospitals have managed to secure a large stock of vaccine doses and people are desperate to find vaccines. Residents of housing societies have been approaching these hospitals for vaccination camps in the society premises directly. They just have to inform the local ward office about the camp and follow the guidelines,” an official from the BMC’s health department said.
“In a way it’s good for the BMC too. These kinds of drives help people who can pay to get vaccinated at their convenience. It takes the pressure off the BMC’s finances and enables us to focus our free vaccines on the slum population and poorer sections of the city,” the official, who wished to remain unnamed, told ThePrint.
The BMC’s G North ward, which covers the Dadar, Mahim and Dharavi areas, also wrote to housing societies under its jurisdiction over the weekend, encouraging them to opt for paid vaccination drives
So far, Mumbai has administered 33.24 lakh doses of the Covid vaccine, and 9,14,890 of them have been through private centres.