Vaccine reluctance builds as 40 lakh skip second dose in West Bengal

A healthcare worker administers vaccine to a citizen | Image for representation only

Queues outside vaccination centres in West Bengal are getting shorter as a seemingly false sense of security has triggered vaccine reluctance, prompting the government to launch door-to-door surveys to identify and inoculate the disinclined.

Despite availability of more than 1.3 core vaccine doses with the state government, it is unable to ramp up the inoculation drive as there are few takers for the jab even as only over 2.6 crore people, out of the state’s eligible adult population of around 7 crore, have been vaccinated with both doses as on November 23, according to West Bengal health department sources.

The sources said more than 40 lakh people in the state did not turn up to take their second dose on time. The alarming phenomenon is not limited to rural areas, posing a bigger challenge to the state’s vaccination drive.

According to data compiled by the state health department, over 14.36 lakh people in Kolkata alone were overdue for the second dose of vaccines as of mid-November.

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As per the department’s figures, 14.1 lakh people in the city did not take their second dose of Covishield vaccine even after more than 120 days of taking the first jab.  Similarly, over 35,000 people did not take the second dose of Covaxin even after 70 days of taking the first dose.

The department’s data showed that 35.4 lakh people in the state failed to take the second dose of Covisheild and 4.8 lakh people the final dose of Covaxin on time. Of them, 11.6 lakh Covishield recipients  and 2.9 lakh Covaxin recipients are in “overdue” category.

The gap prescribed between the two doses of Covaxin, developed jointly by the Indian Council of Medical Research and Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech, is 28 days, and that for Covishield, developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca and manufactured in India by Serum Institute, is 84 days. Any further delay is considered overdue.

Alarmed by the statistics, the state government has now asked the district administrations to prepare a plan to address the problem. District officials have been asked to conduct a door-to-door survey by accredited social health activists (ASHAs) to identify those who have not yet been vaccinated in line with the month-long “Har Ghar Dastak” campaign launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi earlier this week.

“We are planning to vaccinate people by the electoral roll. But so far, our door-to-door drive did not get enthusiastic response,” said a senior health official, claiming that a sense of complacency has set in among people as has been evident from the increasing number of people without masks seen on the streets and market places.

“It is too early to lower the guard. Though the number of Covid cases in the state is within control, there has been constant fluctuation in test-positivity rate indicating that the pandemic is far from over,” said Dr Pinaki Mukherjee, a Kolkata-based physician.

On Monday (November 22), 615 new Covid-19 cases were detected in the state testing 26,306 samples, logging a test positivity rate of 2.34 per cent. A day earlier the test positivity rate was 1.82 per cent.

The health official, however, said that even in other states, the similar trend of vaccine reluctance has been witnessed.

A health ministry press communiqué on Tuesday (November 23) said that more than 21.92 crore vaccines are now lying with various states and Union territories.

Union health minister Mansukh Mandaviya in a recent review meeting told state health departments that 10.34 crore people across the country have skipped their second Covid vaccine dose making the country vulnerable to a third wave of the pandemic.

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