Covid-19 vaccination drive rolled out in Punjab and Himachal Pradesh, skepticism lingers

Some ASHA workers refused to get the jab on Saturday 

By Rajeev Khanna
Published: Saturday 16 January 2021
Punjab and Himachal Pradesh start vaccination drive on Saturday

The northern states of Punjab and Himachal Pradesh rolled out the vaccination drive against the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) on January 16, 2021. In both states, some health officials had to get down to allay fears regarding the efficacy of the shots being administered to the medical functionaries.

In Punjab, the first phase of the campaign will be conducted over five days starting from January 16, 2021. As many as 1.74 lakh healthcare workers will be inoculated in this phase — 40,000 per day. Other frontline workers will be vaccinated in the following phases. 

The state has received 204,500 doses of University of Oxford- AstraZeneca plc's Covishield vaccine.

Skepticism about the efficacy of the vaccine was seen to be high. Some ASHA workers refused to take the vaccine in the first round. They said that the political and administrative higher-ups should lead by example by coming forward to take a shot of the vaccine in the first round.

“My colleagues and I are very apprehensive about being treated as ‘guinea pigs’ in a scenario where there is not sufficient and reliable data with regards to the efficacy of the vaccine. We do not even know whether the government plans to administer Covishield, manufactured Serum Institute of India or Covaxin that has been developed by Bharat Biotech," said a doctor enrolled in the state government service in Mohali district. 

He said it would be very interesting to see if the government shares the data with regards to the target of people who were scheduled to be vaccinated on the first day and how many actually came up to get vaccinated. "Even if 10 per cent healthcare workers refuse to get vaccinated, it puts a big question mark on the central government’s vaccination drive,” he added. 

Chief Minister Amarinder Singh thanked Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday for making the vaccines for healthcare workers available on a priority basis. He also requested Modi “to consider providing free vaccines to the poor population with a view to lessen the disease burden and also ensuring a check on the further spread.”

He also said the state has adequate capacity for storing as well as transportation of the vaccines and sufficient number of vaccination sites have been identified with all logistics tied up. Adequate number of vaccinators have been identified and trained. Besides, sufficient teams have been mobilised and trained to manage the vaccination sessions.

Himachal Pradesh kicked off the first round of vaccination from Solan and it will be carried out over seven alternate days starting January 16, 2021 at 27 sites across districts.

On the first day, 2,529 healthcare workers were given the jab. Around 40,000 medical functionaries and healthcare workers will be vaccinated in the first phase.

The state has received 93,000 doses of Covishield vaccine from Serum Institute of India in Pune. The doses were brought to Shimla from Chandigarh from where they were dispatched to other districts.

Half of the vials will be saved for the second dose to be administered after 28 days. A 10 per cent wastage has also been factored in based on past experiences with vaccination drives, sources said. 

Starting the vaccination campaign from Indira Gandhi Medical College in Shimla, Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur said overall about 74,500 healthworkers will be given the two shots of the vaccine. 

He added that state-level steering committee, state task force, district task force and block task force have been constituted to monitor effective administration of the vaccine. Vaccination stores have been set up across all districts along with 386 cold chain points.

Health officials in the state said the vaccine is expected to provide a shield to the beneficiaries 42 days after being administered. 

Some healthworkers expressed doubts over the efficacy of the vaccine. A government doctor posted in Shimla pointed out that even those who have to be administered the jabs, have no access to data on the vaccine. 

"There are bound to be apprehensions whenever a vaccination drive is launched. One must understand that no government can risk a mass vaccination drive till the time the efficacy of the vaccine is proven as there is too much at stake not only medically but politically and socially as well," he said. 

The chief medical officer at Solan, Rajan Uppal, said, “We are pretty confident that the apprehension of health functionaries chosen for the first round of vaccination will be over by today evening itself. There is no doubt about the efficacy of the vaccine. We have set up a proper observation room for those to whom the injections are being administered. We have also put in place a system wherein a slip containing mobile numbers of health officers is to be handed over to every beneficiary so that he or she may contact them if there is any discomfort or medical complications."

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