That was my reaction when phase 3 of the COVID-19 vaccination opened for people aged between 18 to 44. Pretty excited, I stayed glued to my screen all day and night for two weeks to register myself on the CoWIN website, and to GET THAT SLOT!
After 13 days of trying, and trying, and trying again, I got a vaccine slot.
The long wait was only to be expected, because COVID vaccines in Chennai for people between 18-44 years were available only at a few hospitals.
When I got the appointment slip on 12 May, I felt lucky, because the location I'd been given was the government’s Urban Primary Health Centre (UPHC), quite near my house.
How the Government Website and Government Hospital Failed to Vaccinate Me
But even as I went ‘yay’, I noticed the time slot I'd been given for Covaxin was between 9 am and 11 am. But, it was 12.15 pm when I made the booking, so, technically my slot was over. I figured the website was acting up, grabbed my appointment slip, and was at the centre within minutes.
I still had a doubt whether I would get the vaccination or not, because I had heard that UPHCs still had not received the circular order from the state government to provide vaccination for people between 18-44 years.
But on seeing the long queue outside the centre, my hopes rose. The extra kick was that this would be my first vaccination from as far back as I can remember, and I have all my memories intact.
The booking slot was open for 250 people, and almost 100 had booked for Covaxin at the UPHC.
After waiting for almost 20 minutes in the queue, the excitement began to fade. People in the line were getting anxious and started crowding the UPHC's entrance asking the doctor and nurse to get started.
Minutes later, the nurse came forward and said that the UPHC does not have Covaxin. It only has Covishield and that the government website seemed to have offered Covaxin slots without knowing that the UPHC has no fresh stock of Covaxin.
There it was. Glitch #1.
Others in the line were as disappointed, upset and confused, as I was.
“I had booked for Covaxin in this UPHC on 11 May. How can there be mismanagement at a government website about a government hospital. I have been waiting here for almost 45 minutes for Covaxin, but the nurse or doctor did not say anything until now.”Babu, 35 years, Resident of Annanagar
The doctors and nurses at the UPHC were not answering any further queries. After a huge commotion and argument, the nurse spoke again. Firstly, they would not be able to vaccinate us unless until we reschedule the appointment. And second, since vaccination appointments cannot be cancelled online, we have to go the zonal government hospital in Aynavaram, which was 6 kilometres away.
It angered me but I tried to not get furious with the health workers. This was not the nurse's fault.
One cannot reschedule their vaccination appointment online if they have a slot booked at a government hospital. They can reschedule their appointment only after 24 hours.
“I had booked an appointment at a private hospital for Covishield. When I saw the option of getting Covaxin in a government hospital, I immediately rescheduled. But now, I cannot reschedule my appointment back to a private hospital because my registered number says I have already scheduled an appointment.”Name Withheld, 24-year-old
Some of us asked the doctor and nurse for a solution, pointing out that it was not possible to travel 6 kilometres reschedule the appointment to another hospital or centre. We also mentioned that slotting us for Covaxin at the UPHC was a mistake made by the CoWIN website, not by us.
They connected us on a call to the Zonal Health Inspector, who helpfully suggested that we need not reschedule our appointment, but could instead get a shot of Covishield. We could show our photo IDs, and the staff at the UPHC would mention that the vaccine is Covishield and not Covaxin on our certificate.
Optimism returned. I felt I would actually get the jab after all.
“I did not create my own website to book this appointment, it is a government website and this is a government primary hospital centre. It is not my headache to find out if they have vaccines or not. It is their responsibility now to vaccine all of us who booked this slot.”Babu, 35 years, Resident of Annanagar, Chennai
Once again 20 minutes passed. And then, Glitch #2
The nurse, our bringer of bad news, was back. She announced that they will not be able to give us a shot of Covishield either, because the printer in the hospital was not working, and so, they would not be able to provide the certificate of vaccination to us.
I tried explaining to the doctor that they need not physically print the certificate as the registrations are done online. Similarly, certificates could be sent directly to our registered mobile numbers as PDF files.
But the UPHC staff refused to listen.
“There are too many issues and bugs with the website which imposes a lot of manual effort on a person who want to register for the vaccine. This is absurd, because people who are not familiar with technology, will not know how to refresh the website when they want to see new slots. Each and every time you have to log out of the session.”Name Withheld, 22-year-old
After waiting for two hours, all of us who had been slotted for Covaxin had to leave the UPHC without getting vaccinated.
Plain disappointing. An epic fail. For so many reasons.
I had to wait for another 24 hours before I could reschedule my appointment to a private hospital, and then I got my vaccination. Many others do not have that option. And this is the situation in the heart of Chennai. One can only wonder how messy this must be in smaller towns and villages.
Surely, we all deserve better.