Taking note of the vaccination booking process happening in the early hours of the day, when the allotted slots are exhausted within minutes by residents in East Sikkim, the HC questioned whether the health department or those concerned with vaccination were blocking the phone lines of the people from other districts.
Questioning why preference was being given only to East Sikkim undermining every other district, the court asked if the lives of those in East Sikkim were more precious.
The high court further observed that with the lockdown in place, residents from other districts seeking vaccination may not be able to avail of the service even if they were able to book the slots.
While vaccination slots have been limited to 200 per day, the same gets booked within seconds. Taking this into account, the high court questioned how the state would be able to vaccinate its entire population by October, as declared by the government earlier this year.
Meanwhile, the state government argued that they have placed more requisitions for vaccines from the Serum Institute of India. As many as 11,000 dosages have been allocated for June, it added.
Earlier on Monday, the state health department during a press conference had said that even a private medical hospital — Central Referral Hospital in Gangtok — has received 21,000 doses of the vaccine.
The HC further questioned the number of vaccination centres in the state, to which the state government responded that there are vaccination centres in all the four districts for people aged 45 years and above. For the 18-44 age group, however, vaccination centres are present only in East Sikkim district, the government said.
There are 14 vaccination centres in East Sikkim and seven in North Sikkim, it added.
The next day for hearing has been fixed for June 4.
As on May 25, the Sikkim government has vaccinated 1,19,360 people in East Sikkim district, 46,928 in West Sikkim, 55,210 in South Sikkim and 15,376 in North Sikkim district.
As per the CoWIN portal, there 55 vaccination centres in the state, of which one is private. As many as 2,36,874 vaccine doses have been completed, of which 1,77,233 are first dose and 59,641 are second.
Earlier on Monday, National Health Mission Sikkim mission director Tseten Yamphel said, “The demand is more, but supply is less across the country. Even the state allocation is being done based on the population. We got 9,000 vaccines while a bigger state like Uttar Pradesh received 2 lakh. They are claiming this to be temporary, but it has been three months now.”
Yamphel, however, said that the situation may change when there is more production. “For June, we are getting 11,000 vaccines. The Central Referral Hospital got 21,000 but they have done so privately. If that is the case, most of Gangtok gets covered by the 9,000 doses among the young,” Yamphel added.
Health director general and secretary Dr Pempa Tshering Bhutia added, “For people aged 45 years and above, the vaccines were free and have a different batch number. For the 18-plus age group, vaccines were bought by the State, so these have a different batch number.”
If we do not ask the central government and use it, then it will be caught by the CoWIN portal as it mentions the batch number, said Bhutia.
On the complaints of slots getting booked in seconds even in Sikkim, Bhutia said: “There are less sites for vaccination and all haven’t been opened yet. Once the availability of vaccines increases, they will open and become more user-friendly.”
Bhutia said it has been their strategy to focus the vaccination drive in East Sikkim. The younger population who go out roaming are mostly from the district, he said.
When asked if CRH will give the vaccines for free just as the state government has been doing, a health department official said, “Notably, there is a higher positivity rate at CRH. That happens because people pay to get tested, meaning only serious ones go there. But their primary contacts will again all come to STNM Hospital.”
In terms of vaccination as well, many of our government employees, who have the provision to get reimbursement, can go to CRH for testing, the official said. “We have sent a proposal to CRH, as per our state government’s medical facility rule, if we can give reimbursement, they can also go there. Government may approve, then employees can go there, the vaccination load will come down and everyone can get vaccinated.”
The health department maintained that a COVID-19 budget of Rs 26 crore was given by the state government. “Based on this, we made the requisition for 3.50 lakh vaccines, placed the order at the Serum Institute of India along with correspondence to the central government,” it said.
However, despite that, the state was given only 9,000 doses. “The Serum Institute doesn’t give us directly. They divide the supply by giving 50 per cent to the government of India to cover the category of 45 years above and 50 per cent to private ones. This will be the quantity that the state government has to retrieve, which can only be carried out if the state government pays. We had the budget allocated, so now we are getting 11,000 doses,” the official added.