‘Where’re Vaccines’: Kashmiris Decry Dose Shortage

Despite Raj Bhavan setting 10-day deadline and Delhi terming the availability of Covid doses ample in states and UTs, the reported shortage of vaccines in the valley have become a new concern for the people under curfew.

FOR over a fortnight now, Arshid Meraj is trying everything to get his sixty-plus parents vaccinated in different health centres of Srinagar.

But whenever he risks his life on the curfewed and covid plagued streets, the designated infirmaries in the summer capital send him away saying, “We’ve run out of stock.”

This dearth of Covid antidote is being reported when Lt. Governor Manoj Sinha has already set the 10-day deadline to get 45-plus people vaccinated in the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir.

“It’s becoming frustrating now,” Arshid, sounding anxious, said.

“On one hand, this government is pressing alarm bells over this viral situation and putting the entire population under curfew, and on the other hand they’re keeping hospitals devoid of this critical dose at this crucial juncture.”

Even the so-called ‘doctor contacts’ are hardly working now, continued Arshid, a medical representative by profession.

“I contacted most of my doctor friends in Srinagar, but even they aren’t able to do anything due to dearth of vaccines in the hospitals right now.”

This concern is already being debated in the valley’s virtual space where anxious Kashmiris are deconstructing the official response.

It’s good that the government has set the deadline, said a Kashmiri netizen, “but how they’re going to execute it, as there’ve been a total number of zero vaccines administered in South Kashmir barring Shopian in the last 16 days and the percentage of people of 45+ age group who’ve received the first dose is below 50%.”

This vaccine shortage is further escalating due to Covid curbs.

Last week, when 24-year-old Abubakar from Srinagar’s HMT locality stepped out to take his parents to a local health community centre for the vaccination, he was sent back by the cops outside his home.

“I told them my parents have to get vaccinated and showed them the booking slot but they said we can’t allow you because of Covid curfew,” Abubakar said.

“We aren’t against the curfew but the administration should facilitate people for the vaccination,” said another local Mohammad Aijaz.

“Government is encouraging people for vaccination, but at the same time isn’t allowing us to go to hospitals/ community centres for the same,” said Hilal Ahmad, a trader from Srinagar.

“We’re literally caught between devil and deep sea! What’re we supposed to do in this situation?”

However, the administration is saying that it’s doing everything possible to slow down the spread of coronavirus. In this regard, it has now extended the Covid curfew till May 24.

“The health department has set up the vaccination centres in the vicinity where people don’t have to travel much,” said Dr Mir Mushtaq, spokesperson of the Govt. Health Department.

“People should go one by one, not in groups,” he added. “No one will stop them from getting vaccinated.”

Earlier, voicing concern over the curbs in the valley, journalist Gowher Geelani wondered: “Is strict Corona Curfew a cover to hide shortage of vaccinations?”

Reacting to Geelani’s take on the vaccination situation, senior scribe Mufti Islah said, “Strict or not so strict curfew, fact is there are no vaccines available in Kashmir. A top official was pleasantly surprised to know 500 plus shots were available in Valley yesterday. Can well imagine. One hopes vaccine shortage is over.”

Detailing the vaccination situation of the J&K further, Peerzada Ashiq, The Hindu’s Kashmir bureau chief, said: “10 Kashmir districts get zero doses on Sunday, Jammu region saw 9144 doses administered. Only 35% population vaccinated in Srinagar, compared to Jammu district’s 99.34% till May 16. Jammu administers 5,63,880 vaccine doses compared to Srinagar’s 1,97,571 doses till May16.”

In another tweet on Sunday, Mufti Islah said: “Vaccine is a key in fighting Covid but unfortunately not a single jab received in Kashmir today. The shortage of vaccines is a concern. 28 lakh of 1.3 crore souls have been innoculated- mostly single shots – so far.”

As the vitriol over vaccination turned vexed, many more Kashmiri newsmen detailed the crisis further and held government responsible for the dose delay.

“Vaccine shortage in Kashmir, shocking mortality in Jammu!” journalist Majid Hyderi said.

Further, detailing the crisis, senior newsman Shuja ul Haq said that only around 500 people were vaccinated in Kashmir, while around 14000 vaccinations were held in Jammu on Saturday. “This is visibly a very slow pace,” he said.

Taking the debate forward, another senior Kashmiri journalist Samaan Lateef said that there’re no vaccines for Kashmiris.

“What’s Narendra Modi Govt upto?” he asked.

“In Jammu 14000 were vaccinated and in Kashmir only 500. Lt. Governor’s office has failed to improve Kashmir’s healthcare even during pandemic.”

Commenting on the administration’s inability to manage Covid-19 crisis, many netizens petitioned the other state figures for help.

“Nitishwar Kumar! There’s shortage of vaccine in Jammu & Kashmir! Kindly use your influence and help in vaccination! 100 plus vaccination centres have been closed due to shortage of vaccine,” said netizen Sanjay Koul.

The current vaccination shortage, many officials told Kashmir Observer, has been triggered by the ‘insufficient stock’ delivered to J&K last week.

“We received the last vaccine supply last Saturday,” a senior official said. “That stock has already been consumed and now there’re no vaccines available in the UT right now.”

Amid the criticism, New Delhi Sunday said that more than 1.84 crore Covid-19 vaccine doses are still available with states and UTs, while nearly 51 lakh doses are in the pipeline and will be received by them within the next three days.

But in the valley, beneficiaries are complaining that even after registering for vaccines online and reaching the centres, they are being told there are no vaccines.

“I was supposed to get my first dose on Saturday,” said Idrees Bhat, a Srinagar resident. “But I was sent back saying that the health centre has no dose.”

Even the official executers are saying that the Covid-19 vaccination drive has slowed down in J&K.

“Since last one week not a single person was vaccinated by our teams due to shortage of jabs at four facilities where we used to vaccinate 600 people daily on an average,” said Tajamul Rashid, an admin officer at J&K government.

Vaccinations literally stopped in the Kashmir valley on Saturday, with many districts, including Srinagar—with only two active vaccination centres, including the one at SMHS Hospital—reporting zero doses.

“Till date,” an official said, “only 1,98,783 people have received Covid shots in Srinagar, which is much low than Jammu.”

Already, administration has drawn flak over the handling of second Covid wave, and the slow-vaccination process leading to shortage in Kashmir.

But as the debate rages on, some political figures also joined the chorus on Sunday, stating that if immediate remedial measures aren’t taken, the scarcity of vaccines can put the lives of millions of people in J&K at risk.

“There is a wave of mounting anger and frustration due to tardy vaccination rollout in J&K with some high-risk groups crying out for protection,” Imran Reza Ansari, former J&K minister said, adding how health centers across the valley are battling the shortage of COVID-19 vaccines and that many centers have been closed due to the unavailability of vaccines.

“The vaccine is the only bulwark available against the current calamity and denying the populace such a facility amid the present peak is deplorable and inexplicable.”

Interestingly, the valley is grappling with the vaccine shortage when experts are warning against the vicious impending third wave.

In fact, the shortage of Covid vaccine has created a crisis-like situation with almost everyone being turned away from the government designated vaccination centers across Kashmir, National Conference said Sunday.

“The scarcity of vaccines is not only affecting both the first dose seekers but second time vaccine beneficiaries as well,” said NC’s Party Provincial President Nasir Aslam Wani. “Even those people who have already registered and got the confirmation SMS are being turned away.”

This besides putting the people to undue trepidation is also jeopardizing their wellbeing, he said.

“If the vaccines are not available why is it then people are asked to flock to these designated vaccination centers in the first place,” NC leader said.

“The authorities have been maintaining that adequate viles are available with them but the ground situation is contrary to what is being claimed. Even the priority groups aren’t able to get their first and second dozes done.”

To avoid jumbling at vaccination centers, NC leader emphasized on door-to-door and walk-ins vaccination drives, to achieve the goal of universal vaccination in a hassle free manner.

But with health centres literally running dry of doses and batons regulating the public movement, many Kashmiris summed up the situation with the classic Koshur sarcasm: “Vaccine registration tou kar lo ge, vaccine kaha se laoge? [Even if you manage registration, how will you get vaccine?]”

  • Sameer Dar contributed to the report.

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Auqib Javeed

Auqib Javeed is special correspondent with Kashmir Observer and tweets @AuqibJaveed

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