The turnout of senior citizens and people above 45 years with comorbidities remains low in remote and tribal areas with healthcare workers attributing this to lack awareness and fewer vaccination centres in these areas.
From Monday, district administrations plan to open up primary health centres (PHCs) for vaccinations to increase coverage, but this will be possible only in areas with Internet coverage, so that the CoWIN software can be used for registrations. There will be no vaccination drive on Sunday.
“From Monday, we will start tapping interior areas. There are 1,800 PHCs in Maharashtra. We have asked districts to identify PHCs where Internet is not an issue and adequate staff is available to immunise people,” said Dr D N Patil, state immunisation officer.
On Saturday, while 1.13 lakh people were vaccinated in Maharashtra, Mumbai recorded a turnout of 37,309. Saturday saw the highest footfall so far since vaccination began on January 16. According to data, Mumbai, Pune, Nashik, Thane and Nagpur account for 50 per cent of the 3-lakh statewide vaccinations among senior citizens and people above 45 with comorbidities. Officials said they are noticing an overwhelming response in urban centres and relatively emptier booths in tribal areas.
Until Saturday, Maharashtra had vaccinated 17.44 lakh people, of whom over 3 lakh are senior citizens and people above 45 years with comorbidities.
In Amravati, the turnout in Melghat – a tribal hilly area – has been lower than Amravati and Achalpur city. Civil Surgeon Dr Shyamsunder Nikam said he would visit Melghat to assess the reason for the low turnout. “Vaccine hesitancy could be one issue. We started a vaccination camp in Melghat today but the response was not as good as it is in the cities,” he added.
Gadchiroli District Health Officer (DHO) Dr Shashikant Shambharkar said a reason for the low turnout in tribal and remote parts is lack of accessibility to vaccination centres. Of the 14 vaccination centres in the tribal dominated district, five saw zero immunisation of senior citizens and those with comorbidities on Friday.
“Our vaccination camps are limited to rural, sub-district and civil hospital. So, urban population is getting easy options. In remote parts, we have to deepen outreach and inform people that there is a vaccine,” Shambharkar said.
Nandurbar DHO Dr Nitin Borke said low awareness about vaccine availability is a big deterrent. In Nandurbar, the vaccination centre in Taloda town attracted 122 senior citizens and those with comorbidities on Thursday. However, while the vaccination centre in tribal Dhadgaon immunised only two persons, the centre in Akkalkuan, also a tribal taluka, immunised 31 senior citizens and people with comorbidities.
Borke said that awareness about vaccines is low in Dhadgaon and Akkalkuan. Villages in Dhadgaon are half an hour to two hours away from the vaccination centre. Borke added that they will start 12 vaccination centres in PHCs to reach out to more people.
In Kausa and Mumbra, health officials said they are noticing vaccine hesitancy in certain pockets. Dr Hemangi Ghode, medical officer in Kausa health centre, said they are vaccinating 100 people a day. “We are reaching our full capacity, but the kind of eagerness Thane or Mumbai is witnessing for the vaccine is absent here,” she added.
“Certain sections of the society are still suspicious of vaccines. For them, we are trying to rope in counsellors. We have put up posters in hospitals to raise awareness and asked general physicians to encourage people.”
In Gadchiroli, with major areas having no access to mobile network, healthcare officials have decided to conduct the vaccination process offline and then feed data on CoWIN portal.