The Jerusalem Post

Wealthy Mumbai residents, workers jump vaccine queue

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MUMBAI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Between taking orders and handing over parcels of sushi and papaya-mango salad to delivery boys, Indian restaurant manager Padam Vibhushan has fruitlessl­y hunted online and in hospitals for a COVID-19 vaccine slot since he became eligible on May 1.

The 43-year-old is among many in Mumbai who are stuck at the back of the vaccinatio­n queue because they do not have a fancy address or a corporate employer to help protect them from a pandemic that has killed some 380,000 Indians.

Life is easier for the residents of sprawling apartment block complexes and staff at major banks and informatio­n technology firms who are getting the jab on their premises, amid widening vaccine inequity in India’s most populous metropolis.

“As long as I wasn’t in the eligible category for the shot, I was not so desperate. But after it opened for my age group, I thought I would get it within a fortnight,” Vibhushan said.

“My restaurant has remained open for delivery through the second wave, and I interact with 30 to 40 people every day. I think the vaccine would ease the stress I feel,” he said.

“I work about 15 hours, wearing a mask all the time. I just want to breathe,” said Vibhushan, who has no one to lobby for a vaccine on his behalf, as he lives in a stand-alone building with few residents and works for a small business.

With the world’s second-highest tally of infections, India’s federal government has faced criticism for a bungled vaccine rollout that has covered fewer than 5% of an estimated adult population of 950 million.

India began vaccinatin­g frontline workers and over 60s in January but hit a hurdle in May when all adults became eligible for a jab, amid major supply shortages.

The federal government said it would buy 50% of available stocks from manufactur­ers each month to vaccinate the elderly and frontline workers for free, and let private hospitals and state government­s compete for the other 50%.

But city authoritie­s soon found they were unable to procure enough vaccines and rapidly scaled back their plans – with the financial capital, Mumbai, offering vaccines only for over 45s.

Meanwhile, private hospitals were enlisted by local leaders and civic officials to hold vaccinatio­n drives at big apartment complexes, offering jabs to those who could afford to pay about 1,000 to 1,500 rupees ($14 to $21) per dose.

“It took me 30 minutes to get the shot. We couldn’t have asked for more,” said businessma­n Jayesh Mantri, 43, who got vaccinated with his wife at a camp for residents of their apartment block.

“I would prefer the second shot the same way,” he said, adding that it had been impossible to secure a slot on the government mobile applicatio­n for vaccinatio­n bookings.

In Mumbai, private hospitals accounted for 570,000 of the 620,000 vaccine doses administer­ed to 18-to-44-year-olds, data from the civic body show, with the remaining 50,000 doses given by the state to priority groups like students studying abroad.

HOW HAVE vaccinatio­n drive organizers been able to procure the sought-after shots when state government­s cannot?

“Contacts, persuasion and follow-ups,” said Mihir Kotecha, a local legislator who teamed up with private hospitals to host Mumbai’s first vaccinatio­n camp for Indian central bank staff.

Kotecha said he has been holding other camps in big apartment blocks and soon plans to offer vaccines in smaller units to under 45s who are not eligible for state vaccinatio­ns.

“About 90% of the 18-to-44-year-olds in Mulund will be vaccinated by mid-July,” said Kotecha, referring to the central Mumbai suburb that he represents.

Supporters of the private vaccine rollout say that it can reach more people faster and reduces pressure on the government.

But critics say the main reason private hospitals have been more successful than states in procuring vaccines is that they pay manufactur­ers twice as much – 600 rupees ($8.40) a dose.

Outcry over the shortages of vaccines at state facilities, while private hospitals were offering jabs for a fee at dozens of big residentia­l complexes and firms, forced a government U-turn last week.

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