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Tuesday, December 07, 2021

Lakhs of migrant workers in Maharashtra unsure about getting second dose in time

Senior government officials say that absence of concrete data will be a problem towards ensuring that all those eligible for the second dose actually get it,  even though Maharashtra has reported relatively high vaccination figures.

Written by Anuradha Mascarenhas , Parthasarathi Biswas | Kolhapur |
Updated: November 19, 2021 1:29:52 pm
In Maharashtra, seasonal migration for work, across districts and to other states, poses a serious challenge for policy makers, who have to ensure that the second dose of the vaccine is administered within the stipulated time. (Express Photo)

They are supposed to take the second dose of the vaccine against Covid-19 in 10 days, but Vitthal and Pushpa Bharati are worried whether they will be able to take it on time. This couple, and many others like them from the village of Loni from Beed’s Shirur (Kasar) taluka, had traveled early in November to Karveer taluka of Kolhapur district to harvest cane for Shri Chhatrapati Rajaram Cooperative Sugar Mill. Now, they are not sure if they will be able to get their second dose on time.

“Our work starts early in the morning and by the time we get to our makeshift home, it’s well past evening… how will I manage to get the second dose…,” says Vitthal.

While the sugar mill had asked about their vaccination status earlier, the couple is not clear whether the mill will make special arrangements for them to take the second dose.

In Maharashtra, seasonal migration for work, across districts and to other states, poses a serious challenge for policy makers, who have to ensure that the second dose of the vaccine is administered within the stipulated time.  Annually, nearly 5-6 lakh people — mainly from Beed, Nanded, Ahmednagar, Nandurbar and Jalgaon districts — migrate to sugar mills across the state to harvest cane. The mills ‘book them’ by paying an advance amount, and subsequently pay them for per tonne of cane harvested. These migrant workers often stay in temporary camps set up near the mills.

As these migrant workers will have no fixed address for nearly six months, it will be a major challenge for health officials to track and ensure that migrant workers get their second dose on time.

Absence of accurate data about both source and destination of migration, for lakhs of workers, is expected to make matters difficult for the Covid-19 vaccination drive, with many state officials freely admitting that this issue has not received its due attention yet.

Cane harvesters represent just a section of the seasonal migrants. The tribal district of Nandurbar annually reports a similar level of migration, with many travelling to find work in neighbouring Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh. Tribal residents from Chandrapur travel to Telangana to work in chilli and cotton fields.

Senior government officials say that absence of concrete data will be a problem towards ensuring that all those eligible for the second dose actually get it,  even though Maharashtra has reported relatively high vaccination figures.

According to the latest state Health department report, 77 per cent of the population has been inoculated with the first dose of Covid-19 vaccine. Till November 17, the state has administered over 7.01 crore first doses of the vaccine. However, in as many as 22 of the 36 districts, vaccination numbers are below the state average, with Beed and Nandurbar districts yet to vaccinate even 60 per cent of their population with the first dose.

The target population across the state is 9.14 crore and more than seven crore beneficiaries have been administered the first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine while 3.46 crore have been fully vaccinated. Beed has a target of 21.55 lakh population and according to the state report, 12.44 lakh have been administered with the first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine while 5.6 lakh are fully vaccinated. In Nandurbar, the targeted beneficiaries are 14.2 lakh and 57 per cent has been administered the first dose of the Covid- 19 vaccine.

However, the government has made all efforts to cover migrant workers, said Dr Pradeep Vyas, additional chief secretary (health) Maharashtra. “We have started the ‘Har Ghar Dastak’ campaign, and are proactively approaching those who have missed their second dose and even those who are yet to get the first dose. We will attempt to ensure that by November 30, all those eligible for the vaccine receive at least one dose,” said Dr Vyas.


Interestingly, there is an unusual silver lining in this story: vaccine hesitancy seems to be fairly low among migrant workers. Hrishikesh Anand Puri , from Shevgaon village in Ahmednagar, is among workers who are worried that they will miss the second dose. Puri had taken the first dose in the first week of September and is due for his second dose.

Currently, Puri and his family are living in Karveer taluka of Kolhapur district to harvest cane. He has now taken up the issue of the pending second dose with the mill management. “They have assured us that we will get our second dose on time but we are worried,” he said.

Vaccine hesitancy is not an issue for him. “Covid-19 means death and who wants to die,” says Puri.

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