A medical staff inoculates a taxi driver with a dose of Covid-19 vaccine at a drive-in vaccination facility in Mumbai. (Photo by INDRANIL MUKHERJEE/AFP via Getty Images)
IN a shocking development, frontline health workers engaged in India’s Covid vaccination drive have said that people are being officially certified as double vaccinated even when they have not completed the course of two jabs in order to meet government targets.
According to a report by The Guardian, the workers said the second vaccine doses for people were falsely registered despite them not attending the sessions by using personal records from their first dose and bypassing a code sent to their mobile numbers.
“There is no technical glitch,” said Aditya, a health worker from the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, who requested that only his first name was used fearing a backlash, told The Guardian.
“The issue is the unprecedented pressure on us to increase the number of vaccinated people,” he added.
The vaccination status of all citizens of the country is registered on a government platform called CoWIN. Vaccination certificates from the same are globally acknowledged and qualify people for interstate and international travel, including to nations that only accept fully inoculated passengers.
The Indian government, which rolled out the vaccination programme in January 2021, had set the end of last year as the deadline to get everyone in the country jabbed. The deadline was missed.
Official statistics said 75 per cent of the adult population have now had two doses of the vaccine.
The Indian leadership has time and again praised the vaccination workers as the country with 1.3 billion people has touched one milestone after another.
Last week, prime minister Narendra Modi said in a tweet that he was “proud of all those who are making our vaccination drive a success”.
Health workers, however, told The Guardian that the figures were being tampered with and estimated that in the urban areas, 20 to 30 per cent of people had been falsely registered as those with both vaccine doses. In rural areas, the figure could go up to 40 to 60 per cent, they said.
Manish Kumar, a 21-year-old student from Patna, the capital of the eastern state of Bihar, said he had been on the way to a vaccination centre last June last year when his elder sister, Puja Kumari, 28, received a text message on her phone that said she had successfully received her first dose.
The siblings reached the centre about an hour later and raised the problem with officials and even threatened legal action.
“After that, they vaccinated all of us, including my sister, saying there was a technical glitch and apologised,” Kumar said.
Kumar’s father, Mukesh Prasad, a farmer, also faced the same experience. He was on his way to the vaccination centre when he got a text saying his second vaccine had been administered.
Kumar had an issue while taking his second dose as well.
Last October, he was in the neighbouring state of Uttar Pradesh when he got a message saying that he had just received his second dose at a health facility in Patna. He was left wondering how he would actually get the second dose administered.
Indian government denies reports
The Indian health ministry has denied the reports in a statement saying that every vaccine team had a “verifier” whose only job was to confirm the identities of those being jabbed.
In the statement, the ministry said, “It is clarified that such media reports are not only misleading but are completely ill-informed, and without any basis. The authors perhaps are not aware that it is the health workers themselves that enter vaccination event data in the CoWIN system.”
“[The] CoWIN system is an inclusive platform and has been designed keeping the limitations and challenges of mobile and internet availability across the country,” the government said.
“Necessary features and flexibility, to ensure that every eligible individual has the access to vaccination, regardless of any of physical, digital or socioeconomic barriers to access, have been incorporated in CoWIN.
“At the same time, SOPs [standard operating procedures] and features have been incorporated to prevent fraudulent and/or wrong data entry at time of vaccination,” it added.
However, it was reported that the vaccination programme put more pressure on the frontline healthcare workers who get little pay despite working for long hours.
Many of them told the news outlet that the practice of falsely registering people as fully jabbed was happening because of threats from senior officials to suspend workers or withhold salaries of the targets were not fulfilled.
“I was slapped in a meeting by a district level official who was not happy with the number of vaccinations we have been doing,” a 45-year-old health worker in Bihar told The Guardian. “Later, the official called me and apologised, saying that there is tremendous pressure from the minister of the state.”
Wahida, a healthcare worker from the northern state of Jammu and Kashmir said: “The easy way to get away with the situation is to register people, no matter what. It is less hectic and officials are also happy.”