MUMBAI – India are rushing to curb a second wave of coronavirus, but its vaccination campaign is hitting doubts like Akbar Mohamed Patel.
A resident of the densely populated slum area Dharavi in Mumbai, said Mr. Patel survived a severe attack of the coronavirus in May. The first wave forced Mumbai officials to shut down its housing complex, locking up thousands of people in nearly two months.
The current campaign has nevertheless been marred by a sluggish initial government implementation, as well as skepticism and apathy from people like Mr. Patel and his neighbors. “On social media, we learn that it’s a big game to make money,” he said. Patel said. About the vaccine, he said: “There are a lot of things hidden.”
The coronavirus, which was once apparently withdrawn, is once again rippling across India. Confirmed infections rose daily to about 31,600 from a low of about 9,800 in February. In a recent two-week period, deaths have increased 82 percent.
The outbreak is aimed at the state of Maharashtra, home of Mumbai, the country’s financial hub. Entire districts of the state closed again. Scientists are investigating whether a new strain found there is more virulent, such as variants found in Britain, South Africa and Brazil.
Officials are under pressure from Prime Minister Narendra Modi to aggressively push up testing and vaccination, particularly in Mumbai, to prevent disruptions such as last year’s nationwide exclusion and consequent economic recession.
“I’m very categorical that we should stop it, just include it here,” said dr. Rahul Pandit, a critical care physician at a private hospital in Mumbai, and a member of the Maharashtra Covid-19 task force said.
India’s vaccination campaign could have global consequences.
Last week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said an expected drop in UK Covid-19 vaccine stocks stemmed from a nearly month-long delay in the delivery of five million doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine manufactured in India. The reasons for the delay are not clear, but the manufacturer, Serum Institute of India, said the shipment would depend in part on the needs of India.
India is an important link in the vaccination chain. Amid accumulation by the United States and other affluent countries, India gave away or sold tens of millions of doses to other countries, even though it struggles to vaccinate its own people. Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said the availability of vaccines in India would determine how many doses go overseas.
While vaccinations were initially only available in public hospitals, India now provides in private clinics and huge, temporary vaccination centers, and is considering making them available in pharmacies as well. The vaccination hours have been extended, and those who are eligible can register in person and have the same day a chance to bypass an online scheduling system.
The Indian government is playing catch up. Since launching a nationwide vaccination process two months ago, the survey has been disappointing. Less than 3 percent of the population got a jab, including about half of health workers. At the current rate, it will take India about a decade to vaccinate 70 percent of the people, according to an estimate. By comparison, about a quarter of the population of the United States had at least one sting.
Not everyone in India has the internet access required to register online for a survey. But the campaign is also plagued by public skepticism. The government approved a native-developed vaccine called Covaxin before the safety and efficacy trials were over, although preliminary findings have since suggested it works.
The other sting available in India is the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, which has been suspended in some countries after a number of patients reported blood clots and strokes, although scientists have not found a link between the shots and the suffering.
Some of the lukewarm reaction can amount to apathy. A nationwide study released in February found that one in five Indians probably already had Covid-19. Surveys in cities show even higher incidence. The disease is just one among many people worried about in India, and is linked to tuberculosis, dengue fever and bird flu. Many people are struggling to recover from the huge financial hit of India’s closure last year and cannot afford to set aside time to stand in line for a shot.
‘These are people from mouth to mouth. Bread, butter depends on their daily work. They can not sit back and relax and wait until the wave goes, ”said Kiran Dighavkar, the assistant commissioner of the Mumbai division, which includes Dharavi. “They can’t afford quarantine, so the only option is to vaccinate these people as early as possible.”
Health experts are calling for Modi to do more, including making the vaccine available to more people. Older adults, health care and frontline workers and some people with medical conditions are currently eligible for shots.
“I would try to place the injection in every arm 18 years and older, and I would do it now,” said dr. NK Ganguly, the president of a medical research institute in New Delhi, said.
Persuading the 800,000 residents of Dharavi, the largest slum in Asia, to be vaccinated. Residents travel for work to every corner of the city of 20 million. Officials are again proposing what they called the Dharavi model earlier in the pandemic: if the disease can occur there, transmissions nationwide and even further could be curtailed.
It will not be easy, even if a jumbo vaccination center administers about 15,000 shots a day just three kilometers away, free of charge.
Day and night Dharavi abounds with life. People walk over from thin, corrugated metal houses, like matchboxes stacked on top of each other, on pressure, mostly unpaved lanes with loose electrical wire. Animals scurry between parked motorcycles and piles of debris. Shops, tanneries and factories are squeezed out alongside worship services and community restrooms.
“It’s been OK all along,” said Abdul Razad Rakim, a 61-year-old diabetic, from a folding chair in front of the small apartment he shares with his wife, Shamim. “Why do we have to go?”
Some distance away, Janabai Shinde, a former city health department porter, crouched on her front steps and got up every few minutes to spit red tobacco juice down a drain.
“I step into this path. I sit here for fresh air. I have not retired much since the closure, ‘said me. Shinde said. Her son, who works for the city, has already registered her for a visit to a vaccination center. She said she hopes her neighbors will join her.
“It’s good for us,” she said.
The Mumbai government has appointed aid groups to set up help desks in Dharavi, where residents can ask questions and complete online registration to make an appointment for a free shot.
According to Mr. Dighavkar, the assistant commissioner, there are plans to set up a vaccination center within the slum and to reopen an institutional quarantine center with thousands of beds.
When Maharashtra recorded its highest new case numbers since September, the CEO of a disaster relief group delivered a speech at Gold Filled Heights, an apartment complex largely inhabited by members of the Jain religious group, which manages many of the gems. businesses in Dharavi.
“We can not get the virus to spread again,” said Shantilal Muttha, chief executive. “If it spreads in Dharavi, it will become a threat to the whole of Mumbai and Maharashtra.”
Jyoti Shelar reported.