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Thursday, June 24, 2021

In Delhi’s slums, barriers to vaccination: Few smartphones, complex process

Even as Delhi’s urban educated are in a race to book slots for vaccination for those in the 18-44 age group, this process is yet to find any legs in the slums, which house the city’s working-class population in cramped quarters.

Written by Sukrita Baruah | New Delhi |
Updated: May 12, 2021 10:42:25 pm
Covid-19A man in the 18+ age group takes the Covid vaccine in Delhi. (Express Photo by Praveen Khanna)

Mujhe tika lena toh hai, lekin mujhe nahi pata booking kaise karni hai. Maine bas yahi suna hai ki ‘booking’ karni hai (I want to get vaccinated but don’t know how to book a slot. I only know that something has to be ‘booked’),” said 24-year-old Tinku Sharda, a driver who lives in a basti on the Yamuna floodplains in Delhi.

Even as Delhi’s urban educated are in a race to book slots for vaccination for those in the 18-44 age group, this process is yet to find any legs in the slums, which house the city’s working-class population often residing in cramped quarters.

The shanties in Yamuna Khadar, where Tinku resides, have no electricity supply and rely on limited solar power, because of which not many people own smartphones and almost none own televisions. Tinku is one of the few who does own a smartphone, but he said he does not know how to go about registering himself for the vaccine.

“I don’t know how to use websites and portals well enough to do this. I don’t know the process, and I don’t even know the portal. Since this is a problem with almost everyone in my area, I feel it’s best if there’s a camp to vaccinate all eligible people here,” said Tinku, who has studied till class VIII.

Dev Pal, a former resident of the area, who now heads a community welfare group called Yamuna Khadar Slum Union and is a researcher with the Housing and Land Rights Network, pointed to multiple problems. “People are getting information through TV and social media, but awareness is very low here. Also, many of them don’t have smartphones. Last year, when people needed e-tokens for rations, those of us in the union were registering a large number of people on our phones. But for vaccine slots, only four people can be registered on one phone, which is getting used up for just a single family,” he said.

Moreover, the CoWin website itself is available only in English.

The idea of vaccine camps for slum dwellers was also raised by Lalchand, the pradhan of Bhatt Camp, a slum in Badarpur. According to him, not even one among the roughly 4,000 residents of the slum have got vaccinated so far.

“For the longest time, most of us here were scared of the vaccine. We had heard that people who were getting it were getting fever and that some were dying. But some activists came here recently and explained to us why it’s important to get vaccinated. Now most people are willing, but we are illiterate and not able to understand how to go about booking. There are several other slums near us such as Sonia Gandhi Camp and Subhash Camp where people are in the same situation. It’s best if there is some sort of a camp here where everyone can just get the vaccine,” he said.

In Shakurbasti, pradhan Virendra Kohli believes the community can manage to arrange for the vaccine slots, but with some help. “As far as I know, no one in the 18-44 category has booked a slot yet because they don’t understand how to. Some have come to me for help but I haven’t been able to understand it either. So I told them I’ll find out the process and help them. I had spoken to our MLA Satyendar Jain for a meeting on this, but his father passed away recently,” he said.

He is confident that he will learn the process soon, and that members of the community who have smartphones and can read English will help others overcome the hurdles.

However, in some slums such as Pul Mithai in Chandni Chowk, the initial hurdle of vaccine hesitancy has not been overcome yet. “Most people here are not willing to get vaccinated because they have heard that it is dangerous. I myself did not want to get it till about 15-20 days ago. Nobody from the government has come to do any awareness programme here,” said Subodh Bind, a resident.

Nirmal Gorana, general secretary of the Bandhua Mukti Morcha, was the one who had gone to Bhatt Camp to convince the residents to get the vaccine. He said he has done the same in several other slums in areas such as GTB Nagar and Keshav Puram.

“Vaccine hesitancy and lack of technical literacy are two major problems. Too much onus is being placed on the people in this vaccination process instead of making it accessible to them. This system was not made keeping this part of the population in mind. There is discrimination even in vaccines, and the last people in society will be the last in this also,” he said.

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