Shortage of COVID-19 vaccine leads to clashes at hospitals and PHCs

This past Wednesday, the government-run K.C. General Hospital in Malleswaram received a consignment of 940 doses of Covaxin. As word spread, around 700 people thronged the hospital the next day hoping to get a second shot of the vaccine.

“We were so overwhelmed we had to call the police to manage the crowd. The staff were able to vaccinate 570 people and we ran out of stocks by Friday,” said B.R. Venkateshaiah, medical superintendent, K.C. General Hospital. He added that they prioritised senior citizens and the physically challenged so that they could get their shot in the first half an hour itself.

Prakash S., an employee of a software firm, was witness to the chaos as people fought with each other and clashed with the hospital staff. “When I heard that K.C. General was administering Covaxin, I took my father-in-law there to get his second shot. I was shocked to see the crowds at a time when there were so many cases in the city. Doctors, healthcare workers, and citizens have to bear the brunt of this,” he said.

What happened at K.C. General is not an isolated incident. On Saturday, people who gathered at a primary health centre (PHC) in Bangarappa Nagar clashed with the staff after they learned that there was no Covaxin available.

The frustration and worry over shortage of vaccine, especially Covaxin, is playing out at many PHCs and hospitals, with citizens fighting amongst themselves and clashing with staff.

In some cases, people above the age of 45 secure an appointment on the CoWIN app to go to a vaccination centre, but when they arrive they are informed there is no stock. Others line up outside the centres in the morning and wait for hours, only to be told that the vaccine doses are over. With tempers running high, many hospitals are demanding police protection to manage crowds.


‘Verbal abuse’

S. Abhilash Reddy, vice-president of Bengaluru Mahanagara District Congress Committee, who is active in New Thippasandra ward, alleged that the police verbally abused him at a PHC in Bhuvaneshwari Nagar on Thursday when he went to help a few citizens. “On May 19, the PHC ran out of vaccines and asked 47 citizens to return the next day [Thursday]. They were told that they would be prioritised and given the shot in the morning itself. But on Thursday, the staff at the centre were vaccinating other people. There was a lot of chaos, so I questioned the doctors. The police were called in and they verbally abused me,” he alleged.

At Ullal Government Hospital, many who had booked appointments on the app were unable to get vaccinated due to vaccine shortage.

Roopa S., an employee at a private company who went to get her mother vaccinated at a PHC in North Bengaluru, said she witnessed several altercations between the staff and citizens. “Although health officials were trying their best to manage the crowd, they did not have adequate vaccines as more than a hundred people had come to the centre and they had only 60 doses left. People were really desperate and fought with each other to get vaccinated. Finally, the police were called in to intervene,” she said.

It is not just public ire that has hospital staff worried. With huge crowds, doctors and healthcare workers are worried about COVID-19 spreading within the premises. While the government recently announced that vaccination drives would be shifted to college and school premises, a system is yet to be rolled out.

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Sagar Biswas

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