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Are Covid Vaccines Meant Only For The Rich And Tech-Savvy?

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This post is a part of YKA’s dedicated coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak and aims to present factual, reliable information. Read more.

To see how Poor India is fighting the rising Covid cases in India, visit the ICU rooms of government hospitals. But to find out how Rich India is fighting the virus, go to the vaccine centres set up next to these hospitals.

After India announced mass vaccination for all adults from May 2 via CoWin, urbanites with phones attached to their hands started registering themselves and looking for slots. Accessing your right to health (a fundamental right in the Indian Constitution) became a ‘gamified’ experience when apps and telegram apps started helping users find new slots, which get booked within seconds.

The government might as well have carried out this drive in casinos in Goa with slot machines. When Youth Ki Awaaz asked a few people who got their jabs in the first week of the drive about the demographics of their co-beneficiaries standing in the queue with them, out came a unanimous response: middle-class or upper-middle-class people in their 20s or 30s who have easy access to phones.

“From the people I saw at the centre, 95% seemed to belong to the middle and upper classes only, mostly between their early 20s to later 30s,” said Aadya Ahuja, also in her 20s, who got her first shot on May 6 at the Government Boys School in Rajouri Garden.

For a country whose 50% of the population does not have access to the internet, how could the Centre make CoWin or Aarogya Setu website the only way to register for the vaccine?

Internet Access

The biggest hurdle in the latest vaccination drive is its registration process. For a country whose 50% of the population does not have access to the internet, how could the Centre make CoWin or Aarogya Setu website the only way to register for the vaccine?

Even a moderate internet connection does not suffice; one requires fast internet speed to catch up with incessant refreshing of the portal to book a slot that takes seconds to fill up.

“I saw a young couple, seemingly belonging to a lower socioeconomic status, being sent back as they had not made an appointment, but only registered,” said Aadya. This isn’t an unlikely incident to happen as 90% of the population is digitally illiterate. Even within this illiterate populace, there are more women than men, consequently indicating gendered access to vaccination.

The Centre must immediately ask all vaccine centres to open assistance desks for people who don’t have access to the internet. Walk-in registrations must be opened for the poor and marginalised.

Equality Vs Equity

Unlike the previous phases of the vaccination drive where frontline workers, the elderly and people with co-morbidities were prioritised, no such priority has been listed in the current drive. Even within the age bracket of 18-45, people with co-morbidities should be prioritised, as should pregnant or lactating womxn, as in their case, one jab would save the lives of two individuals.

Even within this unprincipled, almost shameful immunisation drive, people with internet and the means to pay for a vaccine are not pleased enough to be in the top 1% of the Delhi population (around one lakh people of the eligible 92 lakh) to get the first jab in the first week, they want to cut lines at the centre and drive hundreds of kilometres to nearby villages to get a free slot.

Madhulika, who got her first shot at the BL Kapur Memorial Hospital in Karol Bagh on May 8, shared her experience, “Be it in the queue to enter the hospital or at the token counter, many people just thought that they could skip lines just because they were rich. They thought that they had a right over others to get the vaccine first.”

migrant labour
Reach out to your domestic help and daily wagers, and ask them if they know about the free vaccination programme, and register them on CoWin.

Well, the government would agree with these people. It sure thinks that the rich have a right to live over the rest of us. And also ensures that they do. Because while the first phase prioritised frontline workers, while clearly leaving out garbage collectors, domestic workers and so forth, even the latest 18+ vaccination drive doesn’t prioritise the staff delivering essentials.

It seems that the people comfortably quarantining and ordering groceries at their doorstep are getting the vaccines first, while the delivery staff, domestic workers and daily wagers stand at risk themselves.

Short Supply, High Price

With the Centre’s announce-first-plan-later execution of the 18+ vaccination (as with most of its policies), leaving vaccine manufacturers, state governments and private hospitals over a barrel.

Both Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech have said, “vaccine manufacturing is a specialised process. It is therefore not possible to ramp up production overnight.”

As for the state governments and private hospitals, who are supposed to get 50% of the manufactured doses (the rest are purchased by the Centre), have not received sufficient doses as the order has been placed but the stock isn’t arriving. Among private hospitals, only the large chains have managed to procure the doses.

Once this shortage is filled, which is expected to take some time, more centres and slots will open up and more people will be able to get the vaccination.

Can We Do Something About This Divide?

Meanwhile, there a few things that we can do to ensure that people from marginalised classes and castes are also able to access free vaccination.

  1. Look for available slots only in nearby areas. Many urbanites in Nagpur and Mumbai have been reported to be driving to far-off centres in villages to get their first dose. Vaccination centres in villages are meant for the local population, who are not tech-savvy and might not be able to book slots immediately. Just because you have the means to drive two hours away to neighbouring villages where slots don’t get booked right away doesn’t mean you should do it.
  2. Start by reaching out to your domestic help or daily wagers you might know and ask them if they know about the free vaccination programme. Register them on CoWin and help them get an appointment.
  3. If you have the means to pay Rs 700-1,500 for a vaccine shot, please do so. Let the free vaccines in the state government’s stock be availed by those who cannot afford it.

Please remember, mass vaccinations only work efficiently if our family, colleagues, the shopkeepers in our market, the rickshaw driver who drops us to work, all of us are timely vaccinated. Only a few vaccinated individuals do not help fight the pandemic, as has been proven by the onset of the second wave after two vaccination drives had already been executed. Thus, let’s get vaccinated and help others around you get vaccinated as well.

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Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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