West Bengal rolls out COVID-19 vaccines even as politics creeps in

Political parties blame each other of ‘vaccine theft’ in the poll-bound state

By Sudarshana Chakraborty
Published: Monday 18 January 2021
COVID-19 vaccination starts in West Bengal amid much controversy
COVID-19 vaccination in Murshidabad. Photo: @dsoumika13 / Twitter
  COVID-19 vaccination in Murshidabad. Photo: @dsoumika13 / Twitter

Vaccination against the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) began across poll-bound West Bengal January 16, 2021 amid a war of words between political parties in the state. West Bengal is going to the polls in less than three months from now.

The ruling Trinamool Congress accused the Union government of not sending the required amount of vaccines to the state. The Bharatiya Janata Party, which is looking to wrest power in Bengal, accused the Trinamool had stolen vaccine doses for its members.

Tempers were frayed after news channels in the state reported that Trinamool lawmakers were receiving the vaccine, defying the rule that only health and frontline workers were to receive the vaccine in the first phase. 

Firhad Hakim, Kolkata mayor and a senior state minister, denied the allegation on camera and confirmed that no irregularity had taken place.

Santanu Sen, the president of the Indian Medical Association and a Rajya Sabha member from West Bengal told this reporter:

“On the first day, there were 212 centres across the state for vaccination and 100 people in each centre got vaccinated according to the prepared list. There are absolutely no irregularities.”

He added: “In fact, it is our state that is facing a step-motherly attitude from the Centre regarding the required amount of vaccine for the state. Though I am not able to provide the exact number right now, we are surely running short of it.”

While Banerjee had ensured everyone among Bengal’s 100 million population who wanted the vaccine, it has to be delivered by the Centre, Sen said.

There are also signs of vaccine hesitancy among the population. However, Punyabrata Gun, a veteran physician and health activist who is involved with the non-profit Shramajeebi Swasthya Udyog said, “There are side effects of every medicine. So it will not be a good idea to avoid immunisation fearing side effects. Moreover, in West Bengal, Covishield is being used, which unlike Covaxin, is not being rolled out in clinical trial mode. So there should not be any issues regarding that.”

Gun added that he was part of a group that had a meeting with the state health secretary who said that the number of doctors who would be immunised was approximately more than 39,000.

 “Nearly 680,000 doses of vaccine arrived for the state, 10 per cent of which are usually wasted. That brings the approximate number to 600,000. That means 300,000 people will receive the vaccine, considering the two doses of vaccine which will complete the immunization process,” the activist added.

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