Jind/Panipat/Jhajhar: A group of seven men sat under a banyan tree in Panipat’s Karhans village, around 3 pm Sunday, seemingly engrossed in a game of cards. The game has been a part of their daily routine for the past many years. For the past two months, however, the group, all aged upwards of 50 years, have been multitasking even as they appeared to be staring at their cards.
Opposite the banyan tree is the village’s government medical dispensary. The group keeps an eye on the arrival and departure of the doctor and informs those coming for vaccinations about the availability of doses.
Even during peak summer in April-May, when a heatwave kept most people indoors, these men stuck to their post, alerting others if they saw a team of medical professionals coming to vaccinate the villagers.
“Every day 15-20 people come to the dispensary to enquire about vaccinations. If we know that there are no doses available at the dispensary, we send them back — our sitting here serves two purposes, we carry on with our game of cards and also keep an eye on when the doctor is available,” said 75-year-old Ramphal, who goes by his first name.
Ramphal got his first vaccine shot on 4 April. Pointing to a message on his mobile, he told ThePrint, “I received a message on 30 June that I am due for my second dose. I got the same message again on 9 July. But there are no vaccine doses available in the village. I am still waiting for my second dose.”
Situated 15 kilometres away from the main Panipat city, Karhans has a population of about 6,500, according to panchayat pradhan Saroj Devi. According to Rajesh Chauhan, the pradhan‘s father-in-law, at least 50 per cent of villagers who are eligible to be vaccinated, have received at least one dose of the Covid vaccine.
The rest are eager to receive their shots, but owing to an alleged shortage of vaccine doses, are yet to be vaccinated.
The situation in Karhans is reflective of the situation not just in the rest of the district, and many other districts of Haryana — such as Jind and Jhajjar — but also in the country, as the initial vaccine hesitancy noticed among a section of the population, started being replaced by an increasing enthusiasm to be vaccinated.
While in many parts of the country, the change in public sentiment in favour of vaccinations started being reported since April, in Haryana, sources said, the vaccine enthusiasm in people became overwhelmingly evident “since mid-June”.
“The second Covid wave in the country convinced people about the extent of the threat. There is also apprehension about a possible third wave. So people are in a rush to be vaccinated now,” said Nodal Officer, Jind, Dr Paleram Kataria.
According to data available on CoWin, as of 13 July, Haryana had a higher percentage of population that has received at least one dose of the vaccine — 28.4 per cent — than the country, at 23 per cent.
The state that has a population of 2.92 crore according to the 2011 Census, had administered the first vaccine dose to 1 crore people (as on 13 July) according to CoWin, while 18.12 lakh people had received both doses.
The number could probably have been higher, but the pace of vaccination is reportedly being slowed down because of a short supply of vaccine doses.
There are 925 government vaccination centres and 63 private centres across Haryana. But anecdotal evidence suggests that not all centres have an uninterrupted supply of vaccine doses.
ThePrint reached Haryana additional health secretary Rajiv Arora over phone and text messages to check about the alleged shortage in supply of vaccine doses, but there was no response till the time of publication of this report.
‘Awareness has gone up’
“Because of the shortage of vaccine doses in the village, many people have been going to the city to get vaccinated. But the vaccination centres there are so crowded, waiting there seems like inviting infections,” said one of Ramphal’s card friends, Manoj, who is still waiting for his first dose. Manoj too visited the city a month ago in search of vaccine, but returned disappointed.
According to CoWin, as of 13 July, 3.43 lakh people in Panipat district had received the first vaccine dose. The number of those who have received both doses was 58,877. The district has a population of 12.05 lakh, according to the 2011 Census.
While villagers admit there was some initial apprehension to being vaccinated, they claim people now are more aware. The daily vaccination average in the district went up from 2,061 in May to 2,788 in June, an increase of 35 per cent.
Manoj was one of those who were initially hesitant to be vaccinated. “There was a lot of apprehension in the beginning, vaccine hesitancy. But people are more aware now,” he said.
Unfortunately, though, because of the alleged short supply of doses, despite the present eagerness, people are left waiting for vaccines.
In Panipat, a dispute started over vaccinations last Thursday, when 2,000 people came to receive their first vaccine doses at a vaccination centre at Arya College in Panipat city. The medical staff at the centre had only 300 doses for those receiving their first shots.
“There have been some delays in administering vaccines, but we have been making the best use of the vaccine doses sent by the state. The number of those coming to be vaccinated has been overwhelming since mid-June,” said Manish Passi, a doctor at the Civil Hospital, Panipat.
Different districts, same scene
Similar stories of disappointment have been shared from other adjoining districts such as Jind, Jhajjar and Kaithal, where people have been queuing up for vaccinations and being turned away because of the short supply of doses.
Talking to ThePrint, Nodal Officer, Jind, Dr Paleram Kataria, said, ‘Earlier, we faced vaccine hesitancy in the rural belt due to farmers agitation (the farmers claimed Covid was a government conspiracy), but now (since mid-June) there is enthusiasm. More and more people want to get vaccinated. However, sometimes the doses are delayed. So the administration faces this kind of situation (the Panipat kind of dispute).”
According to CoWin, in Jind, as of 13 July, while 2,53,271 people have received the first vaccine dose, the number of those who have received both doses is 40,024. The district has a population of 13.34 lakh, according to the 2011 Census.
The daily vaccination average in the district went up from 1,837 in May to 2,301 in June, an increase of 25 per cent.
“There is no fear now,” declared 60-year-old Lado Devi of Niranjan village, Jind.
“The doctors convinced me and my family and friends that if at all something happens, we will be taken care of. Finally, we (a group of 10 women from the village) went together and received our first dose a month ago. Nothing happened. See, I am standing live in front of you,” she said, with child-like glee. The women are now waiting for their second dose.
Jhajjar district commission, Shyam Poonia, told ThePrint that the situation was more or less the same in the district.
Jhajjar, with a population of 9.58 lakh (according to the 2011 Census), had administered the first vaccine dose to 2,92,742 as of 13 July, according to CoWin figures. But the number of those who have received both doses was just 61,771. Daily average vaccinations in the district went up from 1,709 in May to 3,088 in June — an increase of 81 per cent.
“We have been witnessing an overwhelming number of people at vaccination centres (since mid-June). Sometimes the doses are limited, and people then keep enquiring when doses will be available. It is a clear sign of people moving from vaccine hesitancy to vaccine enthusiasm,” he said.
Meanwhile in Karhans, Ramphal, in his desperation to receive the second vaccine dose, has even visited the vaccination centre at the district headquarter in Panipat city twice in July, but without any luck.
”I have twice received the message that I am due for my second dose. My wife is also waiting for her’s. If we ask the doctor at the village dispensary, he says that vaccine doses aren’t available,” he complained.
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)