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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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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

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.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

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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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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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.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

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