SILIGURI, India (Reuters) – Residents of a city in northeast India are spending nights in snaking queues outside vaccination centres awaiting their turn for a COVID-19 shot, an anomaly in a country with a surplus of vaccines.
In Siliguri, a city in West Bengal state close to India’s border with Bangladesh, local police sometimes have to be brought in to control unruly crowds of people gathered outside vaccination centres.
“Today, we have received 300 vaccines, but 500 people are already waiting outside,” said Ruma Guha Podder, a health worker who is part of the vaccination team.
The modest size of vaccination centres and a shortage of staff account for some of the queues, two local officials who declined to be named told Reuters.
But a lawmaker from the ruling party in the state, which is opposed to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, said the delays were down to the federal government that controls vaccine distribution to states.
“We have been asking the government for more vaccines… (but) now we have to knock at their door,” Santanu Sen, a lawmaker from the Trinamool Congress, told Reuters, adding that some BJP-ruled states had a glut of vaccines.
A spokesperson for India’s health ministry did not respond to a request for comment.
In Siliguri, many sleep on plastic sheets outside the vaccination centre, huddled up in blankets. Others play Ludo, a board game, as they keep vigil through the night in hopes of being first in line for a COVID-19 shot in the morning.
India is recovering from a devastating second wave of the coronavirus that saw people dying on the streets because of overflowing hospitals and a lack of oxygen.
Modi’s government has said it aims to inoculate all of India’s 950 million eligible adults with at least one dose of the vaccine by the end of 2021.
Vaccine supplies have picked up from a sluggish pace during the first half of 2021 and India is close to administering a total of one billion doses since the beginning of the year. Around 690 million adults have received at least one dose.
“I have been waiting since 4 o’clock this morning, and now they say they have run out of shots,” an irate Rajesh Kumar told Reuters after queueing for hours as police and health officials struggled to control the crowd of people behind him.
“We’ve stayed away from our work and jobs so we could come here for our shot. How is this fair?”
(Additional reporting by Subrata Nagchoudhury in Kolkata; Writing by Shilpa Jamkhandikar; Editing by Alasdair Pal and Mark Heinrich)