'Everyone wants to take a vaccine. The last time a camp was held, there were 1,000 people for 500 doses. People are waiting and returning disappointed. At times, it is creating problems. The demand is much more than the supply.'
Ishita Ayan Dutt reports on how the West Bengal countryside is reacting to the vaccination drive.
Dudh Kumar Saha (52) was in wait-and-watch mode even after his brother took the jab in April, weighing the risk of side effects.
But as Covid cases surged in the second wave, he started making daily visits to the vaccination centre at the rural hospital in Jangipara (Hooghly) -- about 46 km from Kolkata.
“Now, when I want to take the shot, vaccines are not available,” he says.
Saha is not alone.
The site has seen hundreds queue up over the past week.
On May 15, about 200 people had queued up, but few got jabbed, say locals.
The next session on May 18 was cancelled due to lack of supply and on Saturday, a limited number of people from priority groups and panchayat members got it.
Srikanta Kannar (51) took the first shot in March when vaccination for the 60-and-above and 45-plus with comorbidities opened up.
He has been cycling to the site almost every day to enquire about his second shot.
Finally, he was informed by the centre on Sunday that the gap between his two doses was now 84 days.
Vaccination was rolled out for citizens 45-and -above, irrespective of comorbidities from April 1.
Yet, for some, it took a brutal second wave -- with a massive surge in cases -- to turn vaccine-eager from vaccine-hesitant.
But with a supply crunch and the demand rush, the wait may get long.
The state government is prioritising the second dose and administering the first dose to priority groups, who come in contact with people regularly -- like transport workers, hawkers, retailers -- and can be potential super-spreaders.
But as people wait to get jabbed, eagerness is giving way to impatience.
The only silver lining is that the positivity rate in Covid cases is coming down.
The staff at the Covid testing laboratory inside the Jangipara hospital say that, at the end of April, out of 120 samples tested in a day, about 40-45 samples would test positive. “It has now come down to 17-18,” they said.
Locals at Jangipara village believe that the recently concluded assembly elections in West Bengal had an adverse impact.
The state saw an eight-phase election from March 27 to April 29.
“Cases surged during and after the elections,” says Raju Saha, a local in Jangipara.
But Jangipara was not such a draw for the political heavyweights. Except for a pass-through by Bengali film star, Dev.
About 22 km from Jangipara, Singur -- site of the historic land movement -- grabbed more attention.
It was, after all, a catalyst to the change of government in West Bengal in 2011 and high-profile public meetings and roadshows were held here.
According to Udayan Das, who runs the 30-bed Swasthya Nivas Nursing Home, there is not a single family in any Singur village which is not affected by the second wave.
“It’s not that Covid was not there before the elections, but the meetings and gatherings aggravated it,” he explains.
Das, however, says that bed-availability in Singur has now improved and cases have been coming down.
“Some people are just staying at home and getting treated. But those delaying treatment have seen complications,” he adds.
At the outpatient department (OPD) of his nursing home, the rush of complaints is mostly for post-Covid weakness, these days.
Perhaps, that is giving confidence to people to give up on the mask early. About half the people in Gopalnagar village, Singur, are without a mask.
Sapan Das (55), sits atop a bench, a gamcha loosely wrapped around his chin, more often falling off.
Hesitant at first, Das is waiting eagerly for his vaccine shot. He may have to wait for his turn, though.
Amiya Dhara, chairman, Gopalnagar panchayat, says that a list of 200 was sent yesterday for the first dose.
They are part of the priority group.
“Everyone wants to take a vaccine. The last time a camp was held, there were 1,000 people for 500 doses. People are waiting and returning disappointed. At times, it is creating problems. The demand is much more than the supply,” he says.
Many see vaccine as a way out of lockdown. The state government announced a two-week lockdown from May 16. But alongside the battle to stave-off Covid, the stress of unemployment is adding to woes.
Arun Pal (50), a mason, has been out of work since the lockdown. But Pal recalls the frenetic activity of last year. “Immediately after unlocking, there was a lot of construction activity. This year, there is no work and the doles of free rice and wheat are turning out to be too little,” he says.