A stark class divide is emerging in India’s Covid-19 vaccination drive

Vijayta Lalwani
The signboards clearly indicated where the Covid-19 vaccination centre was situated at Delhi’s Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Narayan Hospital. Yet, the centre, spruced up with welcome signs and a photo booth, was sparsely populated on Tuesday morning. The registration queue manned by two policemen had barely ten people in line for the vaccine. Most of them were hospital staffers wearing their scrubs.
Outside the Delhi Government-run hospital, 50-year-old daily-wage earner Prem Nath and his wife Asha Devi, 48, stood waiting for the bus to get back to their home in Dwarka, West Delhi. They did not know the hospital had a centre where they could avail the coronavirus vaccines free of cost.
“We know there is a vaccination going on [in the country] but we do not know how to get it,” said Nath, a diabetic patient, who had accompanied Devi, a domestic worker, to the hospital to get her treated for the aches she felt in her jaw.
“From where will we get it?” he asked this reporter.
On March 1, the Centre extended its vaccination drive from frontline health workers to senior citizens above the age of 60 years and those above 45 with comorbidities. In this phase of the drive, twice as many private hospitals as serving as vaccination centres than Government hospitals. While Government hospitals are offering the vaccines for free, private hospitals have been allowed to charge a maximum of Rs 250 per dose.
Ten days into this second phase of vaccinations, doctors and health workers in Delhi have noticed a trend. “It is mostly educated people who are coming while the rest are hospital staff,” said a doctor from the Radiology Department manning the vaccination centre at Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Narayan Hospital. “People from the poorer sections are not coming. They are not aware of this.”
At the Central Government-run Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital in the capital, doctors at the empty waiting area for the vaccine said that “90 per cent of the beneficiaries belonged to the middle class and upper middle class”.
“A lot of those who are on high posts, who live around the area, and are comfortable with technology are coming,” said a doctor at the registration desk at the hospital who did not want to be identified. “They are very much aware of the vaccine and possible side effects,” he said.
The class divide isn’t just noticeable in Delhi. In Mumbai, doctors heading municipal-run hospitals told The Times of India that only “elite people” – many of whom were visiting the hospitals for the first time – were showing up to take the vaccines.

(To be contd)