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Friday, June 18, 2021

In Rajasthan villages, outsider-insider tensions over vaccines

As tempers flared between the residents from Jajod and those who had come from faraway places after booking slots at the government senior secondary school vaccination centre, the police were called in.

Written by Deep Mukherjee | Jaipur, Sikar, Tonk |
Updated: May 24, 2021 7:02:28 am
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In Jajod village in Rajasthan’s Sikar district, local people on Saturday forced the ongoing Covid-19 vaccination for 18-44-year-olds to stop after discovering that most of the recipients were “outsiders”.

As tempers flared between the residents from Jajod and those who had come from faraway places after booking slots at the government senior secondary school vaccination centre, the police were called in.

“Around 80 people aged 18-44 were supposed to be vaccinated on Saturday. But after reaching the centre, we found that the majority of those who had got the slots were outsiders, and not from our village. Some had even come from other districts such as Churu, Bikaner, and Nagaur,” Mahavir Ranwa, whose wife Suman Devi is the sarpanch of Jajod, said.

“We protested and stopped the vaccination because it is not fair that the inoculation will take place in our village, and we won’t get a chance while outsiders will get vaccinated. The Community Health Centre in Jajod is a Covid Care Centre, and villagers should be vaccinated first,” said Ranwa, who described himself as a member of the Congress party.

Travelling through villages in Tonk and Sikar districts, The Indian Express found that while there is an increasing rush for jabs among 18-44-year-olds as the disease spreads in rural areas, the shortage of vaccines has forced people to seek out slots even in faraway places, resulting at times in situations like the one in Jajod.

At the government upper primary school in Akhtari village of Tonk district, 50-year-old Banna Ram Jat claimed that his wife Sugan Devi was older than 45, even though her Aadhaar says she was born in 1978, which made her only 43 years old.

“Does she look like a child to you? We are old people, isn’t it obvious?” Banna Ram argued.

As ASHA worker Geeta Choudhary remained firm that vaccines were being administered only to those aged 45 years and above, Banna Ram and Sugan left the centre grumbling, insisting that the information on the Aadhaar card was incorrect.

Dr Ashok Yadav, Chief Medical and Health Officer (CMHO), Tonk, told The Indian Express that while vaccination for people aged 45 and older was being done after on-the-spot registration and verification of identity cards, those between ages 18 and 44 must register and book a slot on the CoWIN portal, which many in the villages were finding difficult.

“The main challenge we are facing is that people living in remote villages often don’t understand the process of booking a slot. Many people who are not residents of that area are also booking slots there, given the huge rush… This is increasing the possibility of conflict between local people and those who are coming from outside,” Dr Yadav said.

A study carried out by the CMHO’s office has shown that the highest number of cases of coronavirus infection in Tonk district in the current surge have been detected among those aged 31-40, followed by the 41-50 and 21-30 groups.

Dr Yadav said Tonk needs around 6 lakh doses of vaccine for its 18-44 population, but only around 20,000 people in this group had been vaccinated so far.

In Sikar’s Jajod, the administration held talks with villagers who had forced the cancellation of the morning session of vaccination, and after pacifying them, scheduled a fresh session in the afternoon. But the outsiders could not be kept away, Ranwa said.

“After the protests the administration agreed to hold another session after 3 pm. Only the villagers of Jajod were told about this. But at the time of vaccination, we found that more people from outside places had arrived after booking slots online. In the end, only about 30 of the 90 doses were given to people of our village, the rest went to outsiders,” he said.

According to Ranwa, whenever slots have opened in Jajod, people from as far as 100 km away, such as Sri Dungargarh in Bikaner, and from Ladnun in Nagaur district, Rajaldesar in Churu, and Chomu near Jaipur, have rushed in.

“There was a time when we had to persuade people to get vaccinated. Now the situation is such that if a vaccination camp is held in one village, villagers are not allowing even those from an adjacent village. We can’t stop people from other places because rules of the central government allow anyone to book a slot,” Laxmangarh Sub-Divisional Officer (SDO) Kulraj Meena said.

He added that the district administration had apprised the state government that this was leading to conflicts among people.

“The presence of police in Jajod on Saturday ensured that the confrontation didn’t escalate further. Many people seem to be constantly watching for slots online and as soon as a slot opens, they register, and locals are left out,” Meena said.

In Jaipur, Project Director (Immunisation) Raghuraj Singh said slots in the 18-44 group are taken in “minutes”.

“If say, 200 slots open, more than 2,000-2,500 people try to register. All the slots are taken in minutes, depending on the finger speed of people,” Singh said.

According to Rajasthan Health Department data, until May 22, around 12.59 lakh people in the 18-44 group have got a first dose of the vaccine. In the age group of 45-59, some 50.61 lakh have received the first dose and 7.48 lakh have received the second dose.

Among those aged 60 and more, 52.93 lakh have got the first shot, and 16.34 lakh people have got both doses.

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