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Tuesday, January 18, 2022

‘Dropout kids’ left out as Palghar scrambles to meet vaccine targets

🔴 Around seven families with fifty individuals live in makeshift huts surrounding the kiln. Of the nine children in the age group of 15-18 years, eligible for Covid vaccination, none is inoculated.

Written by Rupsa Chakraborty | Palghar |
Updated: January 11, 2022 7:38:36 am
Study finds reduced capability in vaccine, prior infection to neutralise Omicron unlike original variantUnion Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya chaired a Covid-19 review meeting with five states, including Gujarat, and one Union territory, that was attended by state health officials and minister Rushikesh Patel. (Representational)

IN AN open brick kiln field in Manor village, Palghar taluka, 17-year-old Sudarshan Satvi ploughs the ground along with his 16-year-old brother. When the pandemic hit the state in 2020, the family migrated from Dahanu and both the boys dropped out of school to provide additional earning hands to the family.

Around seven families with fifty individuals live in makeshift huts surrounding the kiln. Of the nine children in the age group of 15-18 years, eligible for Covid vaccination, none is inoculated.

It is not vaccine hesitancy that has kept Satvi and others from getting the jabs. They belong to a sizeable group, which does not know where to get their shots as the vaccination centres are limited to schools as of now. “We don’t know where to get vaccinated. Also, we can’t leave work in the kiln and stand in queues to get the jab,” he says.

In the tribal dominated district of Palghar, there are many children like Satvi who are finding it difficult to get vaccinated even as the state has rolled out vaccination for those in the 15-18 age group.

The national mass immunisation programme for children in this age group started from January 3. Palghar district has around 1.46 lakh eligible children. Till January 8, as many as 59,214 children were vaccinated which is 30% of the eligible population. Now, the district is in eleventh position with the most number of vaccine coverage in Maharashtra.

To attain its vaccination targets, the district is holding vaccination drives only in schools. But there is no provision to inoculate the hundreds of teenagers who dropped out of schools during the pandemic. The Indian Express also found out during its ground reporting that due to the shortage of healthcare staff, vaccination process in hospitals and primary health centres (PHC) for children is yet to take of.

“The drive is limited to schools as of now. PHCs and hospitals haven’t started it yet…We are already running on a 40% staff shortage. Many of the healthcare workers have contracted Covid and are undergoing treatment,” says Dr Dayanand Suryawanshi, district health officer who himself has tested positive.

To run the school-centric drive, the district is pulling healthcare workers out of PHCs. This has further affected the primary health care.

Last week, when The Indian Express visited Government secondary ashram school in Nanivali, Palghar, D P Dapke, a teacher, said 112 students got vaccinated on January 3. But nine students who were absent missed their jab.

“On the next day, January 4, we kept waiting for the vaccinators to come and inoculate the remaining nine students, but no one showed up. Till Wednesday, we kept the camp ready,” he said.

Palghar CEO S K Salimath says the district is collecting details of the students, who have missed their vaccination. “We won’t leave any children out. Once school children are vaccinated, we will hold camps in villages and areas such as brick kilns to vaccinate the dropout children. We will take their data from the education department,” he said.

But the education department has no such data ready. In 2021, it had conducted a district-wise survey where they found out a mere 25,000 students dropped out of schools amid the pandemic. The data was criticised by educationists for being “incorrect”. However, as informed by Dinkar Temkar, deputy director of primary education, they haven’t updated the data of dropout students after the opening of the schools.

The third wave has already started spreading and Palghar’s seven-day positivity rate is 13%, the fourth-highest after Mumbai, Pune and Thane. The Centre has also marked it as a district of ‘emergency concern’.

The tribal belt of Palghar has a high burden of undernourished and malnourished children, making them more susceptible to contracting Covid. The Indian Express reported in July 2021 that of 1.72lakh children surveyed by Women and Child Development department, 23% were underweight. There were 5,860 severely underweight and 34,373 moderately underweight children in the district.

“As seen in the US, a large number of unvaccinated children have contracted the new variant Omicron. Thus, the Centre allowed children to be vaccinated. If the vulnerable children don’t get the jab then it will be a complete failure. Nearly 40% of the children from marginalised communities have comorbidities like tuberculosis, malnutrition, heart ailments in the district,” says Dr Abhijit More, member of NGO Jan Swasthya Abhiyan.

Vivek Pandit, the founder of Shramajivi Sanghatana, an organisation that fights for tribal rights, says, “The state needs to focus equally on schools and in hospitals and PHCs which can be accessed by school dropouts. There is a need to hold mass campaigns and advertise about them.”

A senior health officer said that many districts are facing shortages of Covaxin which is further restricting the vaccination camps.

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