Ensuring vaccines for the urban economically marginalised communities

Anujit Saha | Published: 00:00, Feb 21,2021 | Updated: 13:49, Feb 24,2021


Anujit Saha talks about the importance of ensuring COVID-19 vaccination to the urban economically marginalised communities and urges that the concerned authorities should take effective measures to ensure availavility of the vaccine to the target segment

THE mass rollout of the Covishield vaccine started on February 7. Since then, the number of people taking the vaccines per day has increased exponentially. From 31,160 people on Day 1 to 2, 04,540 on Day 5, an unexpected increase of 556 per cent has brought up both hope and anxiety regarding the goal of vaccinating 90 per cent of the population within a year.

In this article, I will refrain from addressing the medical and clinical issues regarding the vaccines as I believe such information should be disseminated only from certified medical experts. But I want to focus on what I observed regarding its distribution through personal visits and media coverage.

The system of procuring the vaccine is seamless and smooth — but only for those with the digital literacy and capacity of accessing internet services. The registration is done through the website which requires the applicant to provide the national identification number and a phone number. To address the digital divide, on-spot registration was kept as an option for people who felt the online system was a hassle. This system did provide an incentive for many to get registered and take the vaccine from their nearest centre and seemed like an effective measure by the state.

On the contrary, the process also made it difficult for the vaccine centres to anticipate the number of doses they would have to administer every day. Since there is a fixed quota of doses per day, it is difficult for centres to adjust and facilitate the increased demand momentarily. Noteworthy, the top centres in the capital claimed for the first time to run out of their daily quota in February, on the fourth day of mass vaccine rollout. Such scenarios were still not found in other centres in the capital or any centre outside Dhaka.

But since they were the most prominent ones, the issues of the top centres were amplified and reflected in the speeches of the decision-maker. The health minister asserted the closure of on-spot registration to address the problem. It is yet to be implemented but if the decision-makers skew towards such measures, it could prove to be a huge obstacle for the people on the other side of the digital divide to get the vaccine.

One of the commendable things about this rollout is the effective distribution of the vaccines throughout the upazilas of the country. People are being able to easily access the centres as they have been strategically placed to have the maximum reach of the people in remote areas. Talking to some of these dwellers of upazilas outside the city, I have heard about the extra length they had to go to secure a service made free by the government.

Registration booths in the bazaars and markets have been opened for people to be registered and for receiving vaccine cards for a fee of around Tk 100 per person. It is debatable as to whether the act of the middlemen making a profit off the free process is just or not, but it brings out the ugliness of our economic reality.

As those at the top of the chain get a free and fair service, those at the bottom needs to pay a price which seems small to us but significant for them. Hence, on-spot registration must continue to function in such centres to help people to get the vaccine.

Current observation and data of the vaccinated show how homogenously distributed the vaccines are within the middle and high-income earners. The enthusiasm has to increase within the disenfranchised. We have to acknowledge the part of our population that is below the poverty line to see how far below their priority list is getting a vaccine. These are people who have recently lost their jobs, homes and their sources of sustenance.

It is clear that the pandemic has hit the people at the bottom of the pyramid, yet they have been carrying the burden for those of us at the top throughout the whole time. The struggles of our overworked garments workers, the continued remittance flow, and the service of our city corporation sanitary workers have helped us function, survive and thrive during the challenging times.

Hence, there must be an active interest shown by the people’s government to give priority to these disenfranchised groups who have been at most risk for almost a year now. The state can utilise the already spread out voting card distributors to now work towards providing vaccination card for free. Members of different city corporation workers have complained about the indifference of their employers towards informing and helping them get the vaccine with utmost priority.

The metropolitan cities are the places where such discrimination within vaccine reception has been occurring the most. This is where we as citizens could make up for what we owe to the economically marginalised class. Helping our domestic and city help register to the nearest vaccine centre could be one of the many ways to ensure we as a community are well immunised against the hellish virus. Such acts shouldn’t be termed as a charity; these are actions derived from our self-interest while paying what we owe to these people.

Even with the aforementioned challenges, I am hopeful and proud of the vigilance of our state and the private actors in place in securing the vaccines. On a micro level, the distribution of the vaccines, the training of the medical nurses who are administering the vaccines is a story of success for our country. I urge our citizens to register through the Surokkha website to get the vaccine at a suitable date and place.

Anujit Saha is a writer about to start university next Fall.

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