West Bengal, perhaps most famed for its Durga Puja carnival, also makes headlines at the moment as it prepares to go to polls this year. The vaccination drive to combat the novel coronavirus thus, rolled out on 16 January at a politically piquant juncture. West Bengal is the fourteenth largest state in the country in terms of area, but the fourth most densely populated state in India. It is home to more than nine crore people, which makes stemming the spread of the virus a challenging task in the region.
The first consignment of the Covid-19 vaccine, ‘Covishield’ arrived in Kolkata on the afternoon of 12 January, 2021. West Bengal received a consignment of 9.5 lakh doses of the Covid-19 vaccine, which was apportioned between two locations. The central vaccine depot at Hastings in Kolkata was earmarked for North Eastern states. The state depot at Baghbazar will store vaccines dedicated for West Bengal. The state identified 44,000 vaccinators and over 4,000 vaccine administration session sites for the first phase of vaccination. The latest reports trickling in from the state suggest that of the total consignment of doses sent to West Bengal, the state has been allocated 6,44,500 vaccines for the first phase of the drive. It was reported earlier that around 90,000 frontline health workers at government and private hospitals have been enrolled for the first phase of the vaccination process in West Bengal. West Bengal’s Urban Development Minister Firhad Hakim informed media that Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee would personally monitor the vaccination drive across the state. Hakim said, “Today (16th January 2021) is a great day for all of us and I believe we may gradually emerge from the pandemic as the dreaded coronavirus has already claimed a huge number of lives across the world and also in India.” The minister said the distress the people of the state had been subject to over the past year, would now hopefully be over.
Ferrying the Vaccine
West Bengal’s state capital Kolkata alone has a huge population of 1.49 crores as of 2020. The metropolis has been allocated the highest number of Covid vaccines in the state at 93,500 for the first phase. The district of North 24 Parganas has been allocated the second highest number of Covid vaccines at 47,000, followed by Murshidabad at 37,500. A leading national daily has reported that the vaccines arriving in Kolkata will be transported in freezer trucks to 941 cold chain points across the state. A media report claimed that the health department has kept in readiness four GPS-enabled insulated vaccine vans to ferry the vials from the airport. Each van will carry around three lakh vaccine doses and these vans will later transport the vaccines to districts in north Bengal. Districts in south Bengal will send their vans to the central store to collect their vaccines.
In an open letter, the West Bengal Chief Minister has declared that Covid warriors or frontline workers such as police personnel, home guards, civil defence volunteers, and correctional home and disaster management employees will be administered the vaccine on a priority basis. It is worth mentioning that the first phase of the vaccination drive for the healthcare category includes 5.8 lakh government and private healthcare workers (doctors, nurses, and hospital staff ), 2.5 lakh police personnel, and 1.3 lakh civic workers. “I am happy to inform you that our government is making arrangements for reaching the vaccine to all people of the state free of any charge. The government is taking steps to ensure that every citizen of the state receives free doses of the Covid-19 vaccine,” Bannerjee wrote in the letter addressed to frontline workers. “We have seen how you dedicated yourself to your jobs despite the fear of the pandemic. Keeping that in mind, I want to assure you that your vaccine doses will be sent to you promptly,” she went on to say.
The Inoculation Drive
According to health officials in the state, around 1,800 frontline health workers were selected on 16 January for the inoculation drive at 212 session sites, including medical colleges, private facilities and primary healthcare centres in the districts across the state. In Kolkata, SSKM Hospital, Kolkata Medical College and Hospital, Neel Ratan Sarkar Medical College and Hospital, R.G. Kar Medical College and Hospital, the School of Tropical Medicine and the B.C. Roy Child Hospital have been selected as vaccination hubs.
Covid Warriors’ Club
The government has also launched another initiative called the Covid Warriors’ Club to provide employment for migrant workers who have recovered from Covid, but have lost their jobs. These migrant workers will be employed by the state government on a salary of Rs 15,000, to provide emotional support to Covid-19 patients.