Short of shots: Kashmiris returning disappointed from vaccine centres

As Kashmir reported a deficit of vaccines specifically from the last week, only 23% population has been jabbed with the second dose prompting experts to state that delaying stipulated time may leave the people vulnerable. 

16 weeks after taking first jab and missing second dose deadline, Mohammad Yaqoob finally found some slots on government’s CoWIN application on May 20.

But given how Kashmiris are still struggling to get their first shot doesn’t encourage the elder for a hassled outing on the plagued streets where a posse of police and paramilitary is enforcing another lockdown-phase. 

And then there’s a growing realization among his types about making abortive attempts when vaccine centers are running short of shots.

In February this year, when Kashmir was caught in biting cold and “jab jinx” created by conspiracy theories, Yaqoob decided to take the dose. 

The decision was driven by the belief: ‘Only vaccine is the potent weapon against the virus.’

From his downtown home, the sexagenarian took his 58-year-old better half along, and went to government-run Gousia Hospital. 

Before leaving the “deserted vaccination room” that day, he was given a clear deadline for the second shot. 

But as Kashmir shortly and subsequently witnessed the viral festive spring and vaccine shortage, the couple’s wait for second shot lingered on.

For vaccines to work up a proper immunogenic response, experts say, both the doses must be taken as per their stipulated time. 

Only after getting inoculated twice, a person is considered to be fully immunized.

“My parents are old and can’t move out repeatedly on the regulated streets and return disappointed from the vaccine-wanting hospitals,” Musadiq, Yaqoob’s son, said. 

“I wish enough of these second doses get available as soon as possible. These double and triple variants are very fatal and I’m extremely anxious for their safety.”

Like Musadiq’s parents, Junaid Nazir, a 33-year-old businessman from Srinagar is waiting for his second shot since he took his first jab in January this year. 

“Even after 20 weeks now,” Nazir said, “the second dose is unavailable at vaccination centre across Srinagar.”

Vindicating these views, a vaccinator posted in Gousia Hospital smirked at the sound of second shot: “It’s good to enquire about it, but where is the first shot?”

Interestingly, as of May 15, 2021, government data claims Srinagar, as compared to 98.48%-vaccinated-Jammu, clocked just 35.52% coverage of the priority group. 

“This is a huge lapse because vaccination drives were started simultaneously in the twin capital cities,” an official told FPK. 

“Blaming government for everything is a tad unfair, when vaccine hesitancy in the valley is creating this critical gap.”

But as with every other vaccination drive, many say, there might be hesitancy in Kashmir “but how will this government justify zero-vaccination recorded in the valley on May 16, when on the same day, 9,000 people were vaccinated in Jammu region?”

This social media noise fuelled speculations that vaccines are being diverted to Jammu to counter the region’s high Covid mortality rate.

“But the situation is equally critical in Kashmir,” argued Kashmiri netizens. “Keeping valley-based health centres bereft of these vital doses at this crucial time is criminal, to say the least.”

In the face of this fury, the Department of Health and Medical Education on May 18 announced on its official Twitter handle that the fresh shipment of vaccines was received and immunization drive would be started in J&K on war-footing from May 19. 

However, residents who had gone for vaccinations on the same day said they were sent back due to “lack of stock and supply”.

“Even the frontline healthcare workers treating Covid patients in GMC Srinagar are yet to be jabbed by the second dose,” a doctor in the associated hospital said.

FPK spoke to many officials in the Directorate General of Family Welfare MCH and Immunization J&K, revealing that from January 2021—when the vaccination drive started in J&K—till May 18, a total of 28,40,028 doses of Covishield vaccines have been administered in J&K, in which 23,06,977 people were jabbed with first doses, and the rest inoculated with the second shot.

“In the health sector,” a top government official said, “80% of the healthcare workers, which is 97,840 people, have been vaccinated with the first dose, while 47%, which is 57,060 people, were jabbed with the second dose so far.”

Currently, two Covid vaccines – Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin and Serum Institute of India’s Covishield – are used. And since they’re developed differently, their clock intervals vary.

Covaxin is an inactivated vaccine made up of dead coronaviruses, incapable of infecting people, but able to boost the immunity. 

Initially, its two doses were given 28 days apart but the time frame was later extended to 4 to 6 weeks from the date of 1st dose.  

As per the initial permission granted by the Drug Controller of India, the recommended interval was 4 to 6 weeks after the administration of the first dose. 

Then in a press release, the Health Ministry said that “in the view of the emerging scientific evidence, the interval between the two doses has been revised by the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunization (NTAGI) and National Expert Group on Vaccination Administration for Covid-19 (NEGVAC) to 4-8 weeks and not later than stipulated 8 weeks.” 

And then on May 13, New Delhi further increased the interval to 12 weeks. 

However, a public health official in the National Health Mission J&K told FPK that there’s no evidence of an improved response, if the time frame is extended.

“Whatever studies we had a few months ago have changed and may change further as understanding Covid, its mutant variants, and vaccine development, is an evolving process,” he said. 

Officials in the Drug Controller General of India told FPK: “Maybe due to the shortage of vaccines, the government is extending deadlines between the two doses.”

Moreover, officials in the Serum Institute of India—the largest vaccine producer in the world—told FPK that there’re many factors responsible for a disparity between doses and deadlines.

“Considering the huge population of India, it would take 2-3 years for people in India to get fully vaccinated,” officials in the Pune-based institute made it curt. 

However, consuming these Covid updates on his smartphone as a matter of indoor routine now, Mohammad Yaqoob is only waiting for the jink to break.

In a warlike situation, he said, government’s primary responsibility is the safety of its people. 

“A door-to-door vaccination drive, in a phased manner, would do a great service right now,” the well-informed Kashmiri said. 

“But, maybe, it’s too much to ask.”


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