On 5 July 2021, on a tweet by the newly elected Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma quoting Prime Minister Narendra Modi on vaccination strategy, at least a dozen replies came by netizens from Assam complaining about the massive COVID-19 vaccine shortage in the state. The complaints and issues raised on the social media sites concerning the vaccination shortage are indeed a reflection of the ground reality.
I spoke to locals from several districts who were struggling to get their vaccine doses in the state and were turned back from centres due to the shortage. Other than this, the technological divide was also visible, as many did not have the means to book online appointments.
For 28-year-old Fakar Uddin from the Manas National Park area in Baksa district, getting the first dose of the vaccine was a long and cumbersome experience. He is one among hundreds struggling to get the jab. Fakar said that he finally got his first dose after standing in long queues on three different days. On 18 July, he stood in a queue for three hours, only to be sent back later as the stock ran out. On 20 July, the same thing happened again.
""I reached the centre around 6 am so that I could be at the top of the line. I got the receipt, got myself tested, submitted the documents, and was assured that I would get the vaccine. I was in a long queue. Around 2 pm, my documents were returned because there were only 150 vaccine doses and over 400 people in queue. I refused to take the documents back. I finally got the vaccine dose on the third day, on 22 July."" -
For many, it takes four days to get the vaccine, he further told me. With a family of 7 members, Fakar is the only one able to get the vaccine. The reason behind this is vaccine shortage, not hesitancy, he says.
""Everyone is facing the same situation. There are many who say that people do not want to get vaccinated. What I see is that people are willing to get vaccinated, but the government is unable to provide vaccines."" - Fakar Uddin
Several tweets on vaccine shortage in Assam are like SOS calls to the government in this regard.
Online Booking Exposes Digital Divide
In Assam, as soon as the appointment for vaccination began in vaccination centres through offline mode, the rush in vaccination centres increased, highlighting issues in the online process for those without technological means or know-how.
An electrician struggling to make his end meets, 40-year-old Abdul Kalam Azad from Hojai district faced similar obstacles with a basic phone he uses to make and receive calls. After failing to book a slot online, he opted for an offline appointment in the vaccine centres that took him two days of visits to get the jab.
""I have a basic phone. I don't know how to book the slot online. I asked for help, but people were charging Rs 50-100. That's why I decided to go to hospital for the vaccination as it is free."" -
Azad reached the vaccination centre at 4 am to skip the queues, but was told at 9 am that there was no stock for the day.
""After a week, I visited the centre again at 4 in the morning and got vaccinated after standing in the long queue. The problem is that there is no availability of vaccines."" - Abdul Kalam Azad
Azad and his wife eventually got their first doses, but his other family members, including his cousins and nephews, are yet to get vaccinated.
Sheikh Hedayetullah, a professor from Dhubri district, a professor, agrees that the vaccine crisis is apparent in several districts.
""My wife took the first dose in May, and the second dose was due on 24 July, but she could not get it as vaccine doses are not available."" - Sheikh Hedayetullah
Doses Too Few and Far Between
Ahtasamul Hassan from Nagaon district told me that people from his village are travelling up to 20 km to Nagaon town for their jabs. The local MLA and the National Health Mission set up vaccination camps, but there is a shortage in 2-3 days again, he says.
""They provide around 250 vaccines every day, but after 3 days, these camps are shut off. We are yet to get our vaccination. My brother is going to appear in the entrance examinations, he needs to be vaccinated. We have been trying for him, but could not get it. We could not even take the first dose."" - Ahtasamul Hassan
The situation is no different in the districts of Barak Valley in Assam, where people are traveling even 50 km for their dose. Fakhrul Islam, a 25-year-old law student from Karimganj district, is one of them.
""The government is asking people to get vaccinated, but vaccines are not being provided with the same enthusiasm. Why are there huge crowds outside centres otherwise? In our village, they provided vaccination for one day."" -
As of 27 July, only 7.88 percent of the total eligible population has been vaccinated in Assam. The Assam government had earlier said that the target was to vaccinate this group by 15 August, the pace of vaccination in the state paints a different picture.
(The author is a student of journalism at Sharda University. All 'My Report' branded stories are submitted by citizen journalists to The Quint. Though The Quint inquires into the claims/allegations from all parties before publishing, the report and the views expressed above are the citizen journalist's own. The Quint neither endorses, nor is responsible for the same.)
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