Tinsukia: Assam state health officials believe several private individuals under the age of 45 have been given undue advantage in getting themselves vaccinated at private hospitals, also contributing to a shortage of vaccines for those eligible. 

This was revealed to EastMojo during conversations with various stakeholders about the current situation of vaccines amid ever-increasing cases in the state. 

This also comes at a time when reports of acute shortage of vaccines are emerging from various parts of the state. The vaccine misuse by private hospitals to benefit certain citizens might have only added to the “shortage” problem, making eligible citizens wait for longer before getting the vaccine shot to protect themselves amid the surge. 

“We are getting reports of several youths who got themselves administered with Covid-19 vaccines at some private hospitals without certificates,” Munindra Nath Ngatey, director of health services & family welfare, told EastMojo.

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Ngatey said the CoWIN digital app was built to reject applications if the date of birth entered was below the eligibility criteria. “It seems the hospital authorities have violated guidelines and age bar restrictions to illegally inoculate people. We are looking into the matter with utmost priority,” he added.

The news about people under the age of 45 getting vaccinated out of turn came to light after a private hospital in Assam’s Guwahati city inoculated Elvis Ali Hazarika, a 39-year-old swimmer, and his wife out of turn with the first dose of Covishield vaccine in March, followed by the second dose in the last week of April.

File photo of Elvis Ali Hazarika. Photo: EastMojo

Both doses violate the age bar restriction set out by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

Also read: COVID-19 vaccine ‘shortage’ hits several districts of Assam

The COVID-19 vaccination drive was kicked off in January, with health and frontline workers getting inoculated first. It was followed by the second phase in which senior citizens (above 60 years of age) and people aged 45 or older with co-morbidities were eligible. From April 1, all above the age of 45 became eligible for vaccine shots. 

On May 1, MoHFW launched the vaccination drive for those aged between 18 and 45 years – but several states, including Assam, had to defer the inoculation drive due to the unavailability of vaccines.

Confirming the development, Hazarika, who has brought laurels to the state in swimming, said he is scheduled to represent India for North Ireland Channel Swimming in August.

“For Visa purposes, the authorities had demanded a vaccination certificate. As a result, I approached Excelcare Hospital and got inoculated with the first dose of Covishield on March 15,” he told EastMojo

Hazarika was administered Covishield, along with his mother and wife, who is a homemaker. 

Photograph of vaccination posted on Facebook by Elvis

Replying to the question, Hazarika said he was planning to travel to the embassy of the UK in Delhi or Kolkata in June to get his Visa application processed. “Since my wife will also be travelling with me, I got her also vaccinated out of turn,” Hazarika admitted.

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On April 27, Hazarika, a member of Assam Swimming Association along with BJP’s sports cell, put a post on Facebook which read: “Our entire family got second dose of Covid19 vaccine today, thanks to Excelcare Hospitals team. I urge everyone to stay safe and wear mask. And I request everyone who are eligible for vaccination to take their dose on time. Situation in India is alarming and India is facing a threat of second wave of virus. Let’s us take all necessary precautions…”

The post has now been deleted.

The April 27 post on Facebook

When contacted, the media manager of Excelcare hospitals Arnab Jyoti Das said they would have to check the records and get back. However, we are yet to receive a reply. EastMojo had asked on what grounds a couple below the prescribed age by the Government of India was vaccinated at their hospital.

The undue favour shown to Hazarika stands in stark contrast to the difficulty faced by the common people in getting vaccinated.

P. Gogoi, a resident of Tinsukia in Assam, said he had to wait for almost 10 days from April 22 onwards to get his wife vaccinated for the first dose. “I tried a few private hospitals before getting her vaccinated. One hospital turned us down on grounds of vaccine shortage, while another hospital noted down her details and said we would receive a phone call, which never came,” Gogoi added. 

In Guwahati too, reports are surfacing that some people are being turned down for the first dose of vaccination in private hospitals on account of a shortage of vaccines. “Few others, due for the second dose of vaccine, had to get themselves vaccinated at government centres since the private hospitals where they took the first dose ran out of stock,” a source said.

A government official, on the condition of anonymity, said that the inoculation of persons below the permissible age smacks of a scam.

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“Who knows this case may be a tip of the iceberg and many well-connected persons in collusion with few private hospitals may have used their links to benefit out of their turns, leaving vulnerable age groups and eligible persons with co-morbidities at risk. The hospitals might have also used the opportunity to make money illegally,” he added. 

The source also said this left many questions about the supposed ‘vaccine wastage’ unanswered. “If they (private players) inoculate ineligible persons, during various phases, out of the vaccines shown as wastage is something that should also be investigated,” the source said. 

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