Booking a slot on the CoWin app is like participating in a lucky draw. The online slots get taken in seconds. This poses a challenge for people who do not have access to technology and/or don’t know how to check social media for the booking timings.
Every day after 6 pm, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), tweets on its Twitter handle (@mybmc) the approximate time of the slots to be opened for next day’s appointment. But not even digitally savvy people manage to book appointments. “I have been trying to get the first dose appointment slots for my mom and aunt since a month every day but I wasn’t able to book,” said Yogita Tondvalkar, a 31-year-old resident of Jogeshwari. “We finally got the appointments for May 13 but were not able to book a centre in our nearby area. I have joined a citizen volunteers’ Whatsapp group which shares information about the timings as soon as BMC updates it on their Twitter handle but till the time we get the OTP and fill in the information, the slots are fully booked.”
Forty one-year-old Nilesh Gurav keeps track of the appointment slots while he is busy working from home. “So far I have booked appointments for at least 15 people. Many of them don’t have a smartphone. While all vaccination centres’ slots are opened at the same time in Mumbai, sometimes new slots are opened at night around 2 am without any prior announcement,” he said. “One can register four people using one phone number. In few cases, I used my contact number so that I don’t disturb the person sleeping at night for a one-time password (OTP),” he added.
Many senior citizens do not have smartphones. Being active on social media is not possible for them. “We have a group of volunteers in various localities of Mumbai, who are helping the elderly citizens and slum dwellers to register online and get an online appointment. But due to heavy load for online booking, it becomes difficult for us to book an appointment for everyone in need,” Niranjan Aher, President of Alert Citizen Forum.
Giving priority to the citizens above 45 years of age, the vaccination slots for people between the ages of 18-44 have been halted in Maharashtra’s government-run vaccination centres.
To give easy access to citizens at vaccination centres this week the BMC came up with new guidelines.
On May 12, the BMC announced that the citizens above 45 years of age (in case of Covaxin dose), above 60 years of age (in case of Covishield), and specially-abled citizens, who are not able to book the slots online for their second dose can walk-in at a centre on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. But the appointment is compulsory on other days of the week.
Citizens groups, resident associations, and non-profit organisations in different areas along with the local residents have been forming volunteer groups intending to create awareness about vaccines and send out daily updates. WhatsApp groups, broadcast lists on WhatsApp and installing a help desk are some of the ways in which the residents are helping each other at the local level.
Nawneet Rajan, the founder of Dharavi Diary, an organisation working with slum children of Naya Nagar and Dharavi, said that they have created local youngsters’ volunteer group in Naya Nagar, Mahim, which creates awareness in their locality and helps the citizens above 45 years of age to register for the vaccine, especially those who are not on social media or do not own smartphones.
“It’s been two weeks we have helped at least 500 people. We taught them about the process of using their smartphones and answered all their queries. We are a group of 15-20 youngsters who volunteer in shifts depending on our working hours. Most of the time the challenge faced by the citizens is to book the slots as they are not aware of what time the slots open. Most of them they slots are already fully booked,” said Ramesh Gawde, 38, resident of Jogeshwari.
The problem is particularly accentuated in economically poorer areas of the city.
Vaccinations in slums
Salma Ansari, a program coordinator of Parcham, a non-government organisation that works in a Mumbra slum, said even now there are many myths about the novel coronavirus and the vaccine in the mind of slum dwellers. “Unless the myths are not busted and people are made aware of the facts, they won’t understand the importance of getting vaccinated,” she said.
Parcham organised a webinar for the teenagers and their parents living in the slum on May 12 2021. A lot of teenagers raised doubts about the vaccines and were confused about the process to book slots for their parents and relatives.
During the webinar, Dr. Qais Contractor, a Mumbai-based gastroenterologist explained that the vaccine will help to increase the immunity in the body. It does not help to cure anyone, but the vaccine will help prevent the virus attack.
Another major barrier to vaccination is the spread of disinformation.
Many teenagers raised doubts about incidents of people getting infected after taking the first dose. Forwarded messages on phones are spreading false and misleading information among the teens, which ultimately results in them not encouraging their parents (above 45+ years of age) to get vaccinated.
“Vaccination has severe side effects, people are testing positive after getting vaccinated, people are dying after getting vaccinated, are few of the misleading information spread among the citizens staying in slums and row houses (chawls). Mouth-to-mouth publicity of overheard incidents is spreading rumours among the public,” said Aher, who also conducts awareness drive through volunteers in different areas of Mumbai. “Civic authorities should be taking steps to create awareness among the slum dwellers.”