08:04 GMT15 June 2021
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    India is presently in its fourth phase of its vaccination drive against coronavirus. After inoculating the healthcare workers and senior citizens on priority, the nation with the world’s youngest population is now inoculating its “asset age group” of 18-44-year-olds.

    After the government of India announced that millions of Covaxin and Covishield doses were to be administered among the younger age group starting 1 May, senior citizens aged above 45 in India have seemingly plunged into panic mode over a shortage of jabs.

    In the quaint little town of Jabalpur in Madhya Pradesh, hundreds of people have been reaching designated vaccination centres to get inoculated against coronavirus. In the government medical college of Jabalpur, two separate queues line up next to each other for vaccination. The first line consists of people aged between 18-44 who booked their slots using the mandatory CoWin app and got random centres assigned, while the other line has elderly people awaiting their second doses.

    The centre monitors in the facility ask everybody standing in the elderly people’s line the dates of their first jabs to ensure the two doses were at least 45 days apart – as directed by the government as well as the medical authorities of India. Those arriving before 45 days have passed since they got their first doses are sent home.

    Talking to Sputnik, Ram Sharma, a 50-year-old Jabalpur resident, who was asked to come back later for his second dose, blamed the news outlets for not maintaining uniformity in their stories and creating confusion among common people.

    “Some publications say that India is facing a shortage of vaccines, others say that there are enough vaccines, and there is no need to panic. The problem is we don’t understand whom to trust anymore. The Centre has extended the time gap between two doses of Covishield from eight weeks to sixteen weeks – why? Maybe because of the vaccine shortage. When I read the news, I thought why not go and get my second dose before the stocks run dry? Many people like me have come here before 45 days have passed, just because we want to be vaccinated and safe from this virus,” Sharma said, complaining about having to come back again in several days.

    India's vaccination centres make sure that people coming there are wearing double masks and maintaining social distancing while around one another. Since people aged between 18-44 have to book their slots online, the numbers queued at vaccination centres are limited.

    For people in the age groups above 44 however, no such mandate has been released by the government. They are allowed to walk into centres in their locality and get their first and second doses of the vaccine by registering on spot, which is causing a rush.

    Speaking to Sputnik, 26-year-old Ankita Mishra who got vaccinated in the Nagpur city of Maharashtra also narrated the same ordeal in Sharma, Jabalpur while revealing that her mother has been glued to the news, panicking about the shortage of vaccines.

    “We understand that news platforms also have their inclinations: some support the government and the others are inclined towards the opposition and depending on that factor they report accordingly. But can they move away from politics for once, especially when everybody is relying on them to inform people correctly about the virus and vaccination situation? The amount of information available on the internet is already overwhelming. How do these news outlets think people will be able to make out what’s true and what’s not? My mother and other relatives keep calling each other, creating chaos in the family about vaccine shortages. They don’t want to wait for 45 days after the first dose because they think they will not get the second dose, especially after what happened with beds and oxygen cylinders in recent days. I urge the media outlets to please inform uniformly about vaccination and COVID. Nobody should be crowding vaccination centres and getting infected anymore due to sheer carelessness,” Mishra said.

    In recent days, several videos and photos of vaccination centres flooded with people have surfaced online. People have also complained that they feel unsafe stepping out of their homes to go to packed vaccination centres.

    ​Earlier this week, the governments of Delhi, Maharashtra and Karnataka put the vaccination of people in the 18-45 age group on hold owing to a shortage of doses. Delhi’s Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia accused the centre of blocking supplies to the state.

    Talking to Sputnik, Lucknow city-based doctor Rakesh Sepat said under all circumstances, people need to make conscious efforts to stay away from crowded places, including vaccination centres, calling social distancing the first and most important step towards being safe from the virus. 

    "There is a shortage of vaccines at this point, but everything will work out. Please stay at home unless it's critically important to step out. Medical studies claim that people can wait up to 12 weeks between two doses. Its fine even after you get your second dose after 12 weeks. Do not panic, and do not reach the centres in hysteria. Stay at home and keep following the orders of your city authorities," Sepat said. 

    Since 1 February when the nation started the first phase of its vaccination drive with doctors and healthcare workers, India, which is the world’s biggest producer of COVID vaccines, has fully vaccinated only 1.97 percent of its population.

    According to the health ministry data, while Gujarat is among the most populated states that have vaccinated the highest percentage of people, Uttar Pradesh has not even fully vaccinated one percent of its population despite having the largest stock of unused vaccines.

    Indian opposition leader Rahul Gandhi has also advised Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a written letter that rapid vaccination of Indians right now is the need of the hour to avoid a catastrophe.

    The Supreme Court, on the other hand, has advised the central government to consider a national lockdown to contain the spread of coronavirus.

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