The Covid-19 vaccination drive in West Bengal began on Saturday, with 15,707 health workers receiving their doses. Among the first to receive the vaccine were two Group-D employees of SSKM Hospital in Kolkata and Sagore Dutta Hospital in North 24 Parganas district.
According to officials, 20,700 workers were scheduled to be inoculated by the end of the day in 207 centres, but 25 per cent of those eligible did not turn up. Health officials said they were looking into why so many health workers were absent. Glitches in the Centre’s CoWIN vaccine registration app since Friday had impeded many immunisation centres’ efforts to contact those whose names were on the vaccination list for the first day.
“We haven’t received any report of a major mishap. A recipient in Rampurhat showed some discomfort, but that is being checked,” Director of Health Services Dr Ajoy Chakraborty told The Indian Express earlier in the day.
In Kolkata, SSKM Hospital Group-D employee Raja Chowdhury, who had contracted Covid-19 last July, became the first person to receive the vaccine shot. The capital city has been allocated 93,500 vaccine doses for the first phase, the most of any place in the state. There are 19 vaccination centres in the city.
“Don’t pay heed to rumours. It’s a great achievement of our scientists. I have taken the shot and I am completely normal,” Chowdhury said after being inoculated.
Minister of State for Labour Nirmal Maji, who is also a doctor, received the Covishield vaccine at the Calcutta Medical College and Hospital.
At the College of Medicine and Sagore Dutta Hospital in North 24 Parganas, 35-year-old Ratan Singh, a cleaner at the hospital, said he felt like a celebrity as doctors, nurses and other employees clapped for him as he became the first person at the medical facility to receive the first shot. North-24 Parganas has received the second-highest number of vials — 47,000 — after Kolkata.
Singh has been working in the hospital for five years, but said it was the first time he felt that his work was being recognised.
“I was nervous, so many doctors, sisters [nurses], and others clapped for me that I forgot everything. I felt so good, people in our society hardly recognise our efforts. Getting the first shot of Covid vaccine is a lifetime experience for me. I had tested positive for Covid in July, and was hospitalised. Then, I stayed in home isolation. Now, I have taken the vaccine. I am well, not feeling anything otherwise. It is like the biggest win for our country,” Singh told The Indian Express.
The hospital’s medical superintendent, Prof (Dr) Sujoy Mistry said no untoward incidents were recorded. “It started as per plan after the prime minister addressed us. The first shot was given to Ratan Singh, a Group-D staff as decided by the health department. It is going smoothly,” he added.
Sagore Dutta College principal Dr Arun Kumar Bandopadhyay said, “From sweepers to doctors, everyone is on the list. We will be giving the vaccine to 100 people today. We have been waiting for this day for long. We are positive about it. There is nothing to worry about. It is a great achievement for us.”
Bharat Biswas, an employee of the hospital’s surgery department, was the second person to receive the vaccine at the facility. “I have been working in a Covid-designated hospital for so long. Many times, to avoid social problems, I hid my identity and did not tell people that I was a health worker. Now that I have been one of those who are vaccinated, I am satisfied. Initially, I was very nervous. I am completely fine now after taking the vaccine,” he added.
A security official at the hospital said he had been told to report at the facility at 9.30 am to receive the vaccine, but on arrival, he was told that his name was not in the list.
“I was told I will be given the vaccine shot today, but later they said my name wasn’t there in today’s list. The vaccine is a great achievement by our scientists. Such small things do not matter,” said 40-year-old Subrata Sarkar.
He remembered the medical college and hospital’s principal Hasi Dasgupta, who died of Covid-19 last month. “I was extremely pained when we lost our beloved principal madam. I used to always be around her, so the loss was unbearable. I miss her today. She was a great guide during the pandemic. It is a big day. She often gave us hope, saying, ‘Do not worry, soon we will have a vaccine’,” said Sarkar.
Earlier in the day, as the vaccination drive began after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee supervised the exercise from state secretariat Nabanna. In a virtual address, she thanked all the health workers at the 207 sites, including doctors, nurses, hospital support staff, students, and ASHA workers.
“Many have lost their lives, many have lost the lives of their near and dear ones. Yet, the health workers, police workers, other frontline workers have kept on fighting this greatest battle of humanity. It has been almost a year now and yet the battle is going on,” she added. Banerjee said he had requested the Centre to supply adequate vaccine doses for not only frontline workers but also for the residents of the state so that everyone gets the shots for free. If needed the state administration might bear the financial burden, she added. State Urban Development Minister Firhad Hakim visited different Covid centres in Kolkata as the drive started.
The state health department said it had formed quick response teams in each district to monitor the health of people being vaccinated. Dr Ajoy Chakraborty said these teams would be led by senior doctors. They will oversee administrative work related to vaccination, and also monitor vaccine doses and syringe stocks in vaccination centers.
The state government has also opened control rooms at the district level to monitor the vaccination exercise and the health of those inoculated. Those vaccinated have been provided with a number they can contract in case of an emergency.
The state administration has roped in private hospitals in the immunisation drive. On Saturday, vaccines were administered in five private hospitals in Kolkata — Dhakuria AMRI, RN Tagore, Apollo, Peerless and Tata Medical Centre. Health workers were also inoculated at the city municipal corporation’s health centres in five boroughs.