Mumbai Five districts in Maharashtra- Mumbai, Thane, Palghar, Raigad and Jalgaon- have given booster doses to over 100% of its eligible senior citizens as of Saturday.
Data from the state’s public health department shows that of the 21,36,638 people in the 60 plus category who became eligible for the third dose up to May 12, 15,26,933 or 71.46% have taken the jabs so far. However, a huge disparity remains in the coverage in districts like Gadchiroli, Washim, Buldhana and others where the uptake of boosters is very low.
Booster doses for healthcare workers, frontline workers and people above 60 were started on January 10. The Centre has mandated a 39-week gap between the second dose and the booster shot.
State officials said that an estimated 10% of Maharashtra’s population are senior citizens. “But in the case of boosters, the eligible population is different than the target population as every day a new set of senior citizens complete their 39-day gap and become eligible for the third dose,” said state’s immunisation officer Dr Sachin Desai.
Almost 26 districts are currently below the state’s average in the coverage of boosters among the eligible population of senior citizens. Only nine districts have coverage above the state’s average. Some of the lowest scoring districts include Washim where 35,738 senior citizens were eligible as of Saturday, but a mere 6,539 or 18.29% had taken the shot.
In Gadchiroli, 9,426 senior citizens were eligible for the booster but only 2,025 or 21.48% had taken the shot. Similarly, Buldhana had 58,314 eligible senior citizens for the booster but only 14,063 or 24.12% had taken it. Other districts like Nanded (27.64%), Gondia (29.21%), Prabhani (30%), Hingoli (32.55%), Wardha (39.59%) etc were among those struggling to motivate the senior citizens to come forward for the third shot.
“We are cajoling and informing people about the advantages of getting the precaution dose, but the task has been tough,” said additional chief secretary Dr Pradeep Vyas, referring to the low turnout in many districts.
District officials said that the fear of the infection has subsided and it had contributed to the overall low turnout for vaccination. “It has been difficult to reason with people, especially after the number of Covid cases reduced drastically,” said Dr Anil Rudey, civil surgeon of Gadchiroli. “We have achieved nearly 99% booster coverage among the healthcare and frontline workers, but we have been struggling with the senior citizens,” he said.
According to Rudey, daily positive cases in Gadchiroli have been in single digits for more than three weeks, including many days with zero positive cases. “People tell our field staff that they don’t want to take the vaccine unnecessarily when there are no cases. However, we have been warning them about a likely fourth wave if precautions are not taken. Our ASHA workers have been tasked to motivate as many people as possible to come forward to take the booster dose,” he said.
Dr Sudhakar More, the district health officer of Raigad, which has achieved over 100% booster dose coverage among senior citizens, said that their rigorous, door-to-door campaign from the beginning of the vaccination drive worked. “The people in Raigad had witnessed many cases and deaths due to Covid. Our grassroots workers continued to motivate them to get the jabs in order to avoid future spurts. Even for the third dose, very few were reluctant, and we could turn them around after a few home visits by the ASHA workers,” he said.
As of May 12, Raigad had 28,264 eligible senior citizens for the third shot, and 31,011 (109.72%) had taken it. More said that the higher percentage indicated that some people from outside Raigad may have also taken the shot within the district.
Similarly, Palghar has achieved 128.69% coverage, Mumbai (110.96%), Thane (109.63%) and Jalgaon (103.48%).
Gautam Menon, a professor of physics and biology at Ashoka University, said that Maharashtra’s 71% booster dose coverage seemed like a good turnout. “We have to account that a large number of the eligible population would have got the Omicron variant during the third wave and may have had to postpone their boosters,” he said.
While the statistics as far as the state’s senior citizen booster coverage looks positive, HT could not independently verify this data. The reason being the state provides cumulative vaccination data for all age groups above 45 years, thus the separate numbers for the 60 plus population were unavailable. However, a discrepancy was evident in the Mumbai data provided by the state. According to Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, Mumbai administered the second dose to 649107 senior citizens 39 weeks ago on August 11, 2021. However, the state government datasheet had considered only 316732 senior citizens as the eligible population on May 12.