India's federal government has been offering anti-COVID jabs for people aged 18 to 44 (800 million citizens) since 1 May. People need to register on the government-developed CoWin app before getting vaccinated.
However, many are reporting problems with the app and complaining that they can't register – as supplies of the vaccine dwindle. Some people in the state of West Bengal have turned up at hospitals only to be refused a jab because they've run out.
This happened to Disha Mitra. “After spending several hours on the app, I finally found a slot for vaccination. When I took my family and reached the facility, a big lock was hanging on the main gate. There were others who faced similar ordeal, but we had no other choice but to return,” she said.
Disha recently lost her cousin to COVID-19 and blames the negligence of the state-run hospital that was treating her.
Sanjib Saha had to travel 15 km with his 78-year-old father to get him the jab. He claims he booked an appointment but when he reached the private hospital he was denied the vaccine because more than 100 people were already standing around waiting.
“I have been trying for weeks now. Finally, when I went to a hospital after booking an appointment, I was asked to return. What is the point of this platform if hospitals don’t even accept it?” Saha rued.
West Bengal has witnessed a dramatic surge in COVID-19 cases from mid-March during the unprecedented eight-phase Assembly elections.
Due to the spike in cases and lack of slots, citizens – mostly elderly people – have started forming massive queues outside health facilities in a bid to secure a vaccine.
“I had to wait from 2 am outside the hospital not once but for three days. I got my first dose earlier this month, and perhaps will have to do the same to get the second dose,” said Ratin Pal, a 64-year-old retired man.
When Sputnik spoke to two private hospitals, the management said they prioritise those standing in queues over people who have booked a slot on the app.
“We can't ask people standing from midnight to return home. It’s criminal. They are mostly old people and we don’t want chaos here,” said one of the hospitals.
Despite its population of 1.3 billion, India has only administered 187 million doses to date. West Bengal has so far vaccinated 9 percent of its population with 12 million doses.
The government claimed that it had so far procured 356 million doses of both Covishield and Covaxin, but none have been delivered so far. An affidavit in the Supreme Court revealed that only 20 million doses may be available for the 18-44 age group across India this month. States such as Maharashtra, Telangana, and Karnataka had to temporarily suspend the vaccination process for this age range due to supply shortages.