State Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma launched the COVID-19 vaccination drive at the GMCH

Two Assam medical colleges witnessed a poor 40 per cent turnout as the COVID-19 vaccination kicked off on Saturday. Officials cite the use of controversial Covaxin as one of the reasons for many health workers not turning up.

According to nodal officer Roopshekhar Mohan at Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed Medical College and Hospital (FAAMCH) in lower Assam’s Barpeta, only 27 of the 100 beneficiaries turned up for vaccination. Tezpur Medical College and Hospital in Sonitpur saw only 52 of the 100 beneficiaries. The two medical colleges in Sonitpur and Barpeta are among the six centres in both districts where Covaxin is being administered. The centres in rest of the state have got Covishield.

Pomi Baruah, the nodal officer at NHM Assam, said vaccination drive in the state saw a 54.2 per cent turnout as 3,528 of the 6,499 beneficiaries got the COVID-19 vaccine jab.

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According to Tirthanath Sarmah, Joint Director, Health, Barpeta, the turnout at the remaining two centres at Barpeta Road and Kalgachia stood at 40 and 54 respectively. In Sonitpur District, the other two centres in Dhekiajuli and Tezpur saw a turnout of 58 and 94 health workers, as per J Ahmed, Joint Director, Health.

“Only a few doctors turned up,” said an official at TMCH on condition of anonymity. “Three-four of them who did not turn up told me it would have been better if Covishield was being administered,” this official added.

An official at the FAAMCH who was part of the vaccination programme mentioned how initially, many beneficiaries could not be contacted because of issues with the CoWIN portal. Subsequently, when many of the health care workers were contacted through the phone, they were reluctant and opted out of the drive. “

“People seem to be not ready to take Covaxin,” the official said. The 27 health workers administered the vaccine at FAAMCH did not report any adverse effects, the official said. According to NHM Assam, 3 incidents of Adverse Events Following Immunisation (AEFI) were reported across the state.

“A GNM from Bongaigaon had reported giddiness and recovered after observation. Similarly, an ANM in Bokaghat complained of giddiness and an ASHA from Tinsukia district complained of mild itching. Both recovered after symptomatic treatment and observation as per protocol,” the NHM statement said.

Meanwhile, Pradip Nath, the in-charge of the health centre at Dhekiajuli cited Bihu as another reason for the low attendance. But he also mentioned how the controversy over Covaxin in the media played a role in the low attendance. “There is so much controversial news about the vaccine in social media. That has had an impact I feel. There is some fear among people,” Nath said.

“A few challenges were observed and have been taken up with appropriate authorities for resolution. Some initial hesitancy among the proposed beneficiaries have also been reported,” NHM, Assam said in a statement.

“However, it is hoped that these initial hiccups would be taken care of in the coming days and the largest vaccination campaign will become a huge success,” the NHM statement added.

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Assam joined the nation in launching the COVID-19 vaccination drive on Saturday, with a medical officer in Golaghat district becoming the first person in the state to receive the jab.

Dr Milan Kumar Laskar, the sub-divisional medical officer of Bokakhat, was administered the shot at 11.07 am at a public health centre, right after Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed the nation on the occasion.

Later, Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal launched the state-wide drive at Assam Medical College Hospital (AMCH) in Dibrugarh, and Minister for Health and Family Welfare Himanta Biswa Sarma at Gauhati Medical College Hospital (GMCH) here.

At GMCH, retired vice-chancellor of Sankardeva University of Health Sciences, Dr Umesh Chandra Sarma, was the first person to receive the shot, followed by 11 other prominent doctors, including its principal Dr Achyut Baishya and superintendent Dr Abhijeet Sharma.

Similarly, in AMCH, its principal Dr Sanjiv Kakoti was administered the first dose.

The chief minister, after launching the drive, said that it was a “moment of pride for the entire nation and a major step towards realising Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call for an ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’, made possible only due to his able leadership”.

(With inputs from PTI)

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