BHOPAL, Madhya Pradesh — On 12 May, people from all age groups, registered and unregistered, with and without coupons, thronged to Covid-19 vaccination centres in Bhopal. Long queues for vaccination, with no social distancing, made it impossible for some elderly citizens to get their second dose of vaccine.
Ramswaroop Tiwari, 85, set out at nine in the morning to get vaccinated. It would take him three hours to visit three vaccination centres before he returned home without a jab because one was closed and there were no social distancing norms in place at the other two.
Tiwari, a retired headmaster of the Government School, Sagar, Madhya Pradesh, and a father to four children, said, “There’s no one to manage the crowd. I can manage a place better than them at this age. People are dying like flies but Modi doesn’t seem to care nor does Shivraj. I will never forget this when the state and nation will go to polls in future.” Tiwari was referring to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan.
People above the age of 45 in Bhopal, including the elderly, have found it difficult to get the second dose of the vaccine due to the lack of vaccines. Tiwari, for instance, got his first shot on 20 March 2021 but had been struggling for days to find a slot for the second dose on the CoWIN app. Private hospitals have stopped vaccinations due to the shortage of vaccines. On 28 April, Chief Minister Chouhan said there were not enough vaccines in the state, and the vaccination for the 18+ to 45 age group, scheduled for 1 May, would have to be postponed. It started free of cost from 5 May.
There’s no one to manage the crowd. I can manage a place better than them at this age.
On hearing that the vaccination centres were administering the vaccine for people above the age of 45 without online registration, Tiwari and his 22-year-old grandson, Ojaswi Tiwari, a college student, drove to the closest vaccination centre to his house, the Civil Dispensary near the Industrial Training Institute (ITI), in Bhopal.
It was closed. A notice on the wall mentioned the locations of three other vaccination centres, but without any information on whether they were open to vaccinating everyone over the age of 18, and how to get there.
Tiwari and his grandson headed to the vaccination centre in Bijli Colony, three kilometres away. There were no signboards to guide them. Google maps failed. Eventually, they asked for directions from locals, most of whom were not wearing masks.
On reaching the second centre, Tiwari and his grandson saw two lines, one for those who had registered online, and a second one for walk-ins, but they noticed that both lines overlapped with each other. There was no one to guide them. While most people were wearing masks, there was no social distancing.
The guard was calling out names, but within minutes of them reaching the centre, a commotion ensued outside the main gate, with some people alleging that the guard was arbitrarily letting people inside the centre. “We decided not to wait here as the crowd was swelling up and nobody seemed to care about social distancing,” said Ojaswi.
We decided not to wait here as the crowd was swelling up and nobody seemed to care about social distancing.
They then went to a third centre, the Girls’ Higher Secondary School, Govindpura, one kilometre away.
Once again, there was no social distancing. There were two long queues of people standing with no gap between them. Elderly people stood in the scorching sun. Eventually, the two queues merged into one.
This centre had distributed 200 coupons earlier that morning to facilitate a smooth vaccination drive, but when the vaccination began, officials at the centre started letting in people who did not have the coupons.
An official announced that they would try and vaccinate people who had not registered online. He added, “We will let you all in, but whether you get vaccinated depends on whether you can be registered. If it registers you, good, but in case it doesn’t, we can’t help it.”
At this point, Ojaswi decided to return home with his grandfather.
“I would rather keep him safe at home without a vaccine than get him vaccinated and contract COVID-19 here,” said Ojaswi. “What’s unfolding here is nothing short of a mini super spreader event.”
What’s unfolding here is nothing short of a mini super spreader event.
“At this age, when I should be sitting at home, I have to come here in this scorching heat to get a jab,” said Tiwari. “People say why do you want to live more at this age? I shut them up by saying that I am still young and have a long life ahead of me. But looking at the condition here, I am not sure about the vaccine but I will probably catch the virus that I have been dreading for months now.”
At this age, when I should be sitting at home, I have to come here in this scorching heat to get a jab.
This appalling state of affairs, however, was not witnessed at every vaccination centre across Bhopal.
Shivam Pandey, 24, booked a slot for Tuesday for the first dose of Covaxin for himself along with his mother and sister. He visited the vaccination centre at the Imperial Higher Secondary School, Itwara, and found the process smooth. “There were just the three of us and a couple of people at the centre. We reached the centre around 12:55 pm and within a few minutes we were good to go, “he said.
Bhupendra Khatik, 26, booked a slot on Tuesday and got vaccinated on Wednesday at the Police Headquarters vaccination centre.
“I reached my centre half an hour early. There were 40 slots in my shift and the whole process went smoothly,” he said.
At the time of publication, Ojaswi said that he had managed to get a slot online for his grandfather at the Jawaharlal Nehru BHEL school on Thursday morning.
Ojaswai said he was hoping against hope that the social distancing norms were in place at this centre.