Three days into the drive to administer the booster dose of Covid vaccines to people between 18 and 59 years, private hospitals and clinics in Kolkata said the response had been poor compared with the rush for inoculation around this time last year.
Many private hospitals, which were earlier administering more than 1,000 doses of Covid vaccines every day, have given the booster shot to barely less than 100 people aged between 18 and 59 daily since Sunday, when the drive to boost the 18-59 age group started across the country.
Doctors and hospital officials said there could be several reasons for the low footfall, primary among them being a belief fast gaining ground that “Covid is gone” and would not return in the way it did in the first two waves.
Other factors include the eligibility clause. According to the Centre’s directive, those who have completed nine months after the second shot are eligible for the booster — or precaution — dose.
Also, there are many who would have been otherwise eligible for the third dose but had contracted Covid in the past two months. The Centre has said those who have contracted Covid have to wait for at least three months after recovery before taking the booster.
On Tuesday, 1,824 people in the 18-59 age group took the booster dose, the state health department said: “We would have been satisfied had the number of daily recipients been between 10,000 and 15,000. But it has remained very low. More people have to come forward to take the precautionary dose,” said Ajay Chakraborty, Bengal’s director of health service.
“There are many in this age group who contracted Covid during the Omicron-driven third wave. Also, there are many who are awaiting the nine-month gap from the second dose to be over. Still, the number should have been much higher,” said Chakraborty.
Chandramouli Bhattacharya, an infectious disease specialist at Peerless Hospital, said a large section of the population had started believing that Covid — or at least the worst of it — was over, suggesting that could be a reason for the lukewarm response to the booster drive
“The mild nature of the disease caused by the omicron variant of the coronavirus has also led people to believe that they can afford to skip the vaccination programme. Several patients are asking me about the precaution dose, they are serious about it. But many believe they need not take the dose.”
He said that even many of his doctor colleagues are of the opinion that Covid is gone.
The RN Tagore International Institute of Cardiac Sciences had 43 recipients in the age group of 18 to 59 on Monday and 45 on Tuesday. The total footfall for Covid vaccines on Tuesday was 78, said officials.
“We used to have around 1,000 recipients every day when the Covid vaccination drive was at its peak in
April and May last year,” said R. Venkatesh, regional director, east, Narayana Health, which runs the RN Tagore hospital.
“We didn’t expect the footfall to be so high now, but with the prices of both vaccines (Covaxin and Covishield) slashed to Rs 386 per dose and the fact that only private centres are allowed to administer the booster dose (to the 18-59 age group), we had expected a turnout of at least 250 per day. But the response so far has been poor.”
The call centre of the AMRI Hospitals has received hundreds of queries from vaccine recipients but fewer people turned up for the jab at the three units of the chain from Sunday till Tuesday.
“We had hoped that since the booster dose is administered only at private vaccination centres, a drastic price slash will encourage more beneficiaries to opt for it. Unfortunately, the response, though marginally better than it had been since November 2021, is disappointing,” said Rupak Barua, Group CEO, AMRI.
The response at Peerless Hospital, too, has been “far from encouraging”.
The hospital had 93 recipients on Monday and 95 on Tuesday, said Sudipta Mitra, chief executive of the hospital. It had been having barely 20 people coming for the Covid shot since November till Sunday.