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Sunday, March 07, 2021

Men over machine: Meet workers who streamlined vaccine drive when tech failed

At the G-north ward headed by ward officer Kiran Dighavkar, which covers some parts of the central suburbs of the city, the manual list of the recipients was only received at 12am on Saturday

Written by Sadaf Modak | Mumbai |
January 21, 2021 1:48:43 am
Mumbai covid, Mumbai covid vaccine, Mumbai covid vaccination, COWIN app, indian express newsEach person called over 10 recipients and informed them about the vaccine drive’s Day 1. (Representational)

LATE ON Friday night the Co-Win app, created to facilitate the nation-wide vaccination drive for Covid-19, developed glitches. Alarmed over the fact that it had no way of reaching out to the 4,000 health workers who were expected to get their shots the next day, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) on Friday night activated its 24 war rooms spread across its various administrative wards and deployed over 75 BMC employees to persuade recipients to show up for the vaccination the next day.

At the G-north ward headed by ward officer Kiran Dighavkar, which covers some parts of the central suburbs of the city, the manual list of the recipients was only received at 12am on Saturday. “While there were only a few hours to go before the process was to be initiated across ten centers in the city, it was also too late in the night to make calls to the 133 recipients on the list,” said Dr Nazish Shaikh, assistant medical officer, of the expanded immunization programme. At the war room at the ward office, which at that time had five people on duty, a text message was drafted and sent to the 133 within a few hours. It was decided to start making calls to the recipients at daybreak around 6am.

Since there were only five people on the night shift in the war room, doctors, nurses and ward boys from the Covid Care Center in the ward were also called to assist in making calls. Each person called over 10 recipients and informed them about the vaccine drive’s Day 1. Since it is voluntary, they informed them about the process and made a note of those who were agreeing to be vaccinated, those who were not available or those seeking a later date. The list was sent to each center which verified the identities of the recipients and administered the vaccine. With the teething problems of the Co-Win app still to be ironed out, the war rooms continue to be the backend support of the vaccination drive in the city.

In the initial months of the pandemic, “war rooms”, a designated room within each ward office, converted into a round-the-clock helpline to coordinate health outreach during the pandemic, were created as helplines to coordinate between authorities and common people about quarantine facilities, testing, Covid-19 centers. The process to facilitate the vaccination began in these war rooms from September. Each ward office had to draw out a list of all staff members of medical facilities, including public and private hospitals, maternity homes and diagnostic laboratories in their jurisdiction. The G-North ward, for instance, had 21 government facilities, 52 nursing homes and 70 private clinics in its jurisdiction.

While community health posts and other ward-level health workers were tasked with going to each of these facilities and take the names, contact numbers and identity proofs of medical staff, calls were also made to each one of them explaining to them the registration process for a vaccination drive, even as trials were still on and no date was fixed for the rolling out of the first vaccine. “At that time, many were reluctant to share information as they did not believe that the vaccine would be brought out in a short span,” Shaikh said.

Questions on calls – eager, curious and hesitant – continue to be received to the war room. “We have begun receiving at least 25 calls a day from citizens, health workers about the vaccine. Recently, I received a call from a senior citizen who wanted to know where and how the vaccines are stored. He asked if he could be shown the storage facility and explained the entire process to be reassured. Many queries relate to information available through news from countries where the process has already begun many weeks ago,” said Bhimraj Jadhav, one of the coordinators in the ward office war room.

The team of 10 working in the war room say that many calls are specifically from senior citizens, wanting to know when the virus will be given to them and whether they can take it if they have any medical issues. The team continues to make calls to health workers who are to be administered the vaccine, making note of whether they were willing or not with many stating that they are out of town or that they will wait for a few weeks before making a decision. Among the team members, Krista Chaurasia, a doctor in the war room and Manjula Chimbalkar, in-charge of the war room, opted for the vaccination on Saturday. “Some callers ask us if we have taken the vaccine, how did we feel, whether we had any side effects. It is easier to answer their queries now that we have taken the vaccine,” Chaurasia said.

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