Many young people in Chennai get COVID vaccine, Corp says age rule not relaxed yet

While Chennai Corporation maintains that only those above 45 years can receive the vaccine, TNM spoke to a few young Chennaiites who managed to get the shot.
Health worker drawing vaccine using a syringe
Health worker drawing vaccine using a syringe
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The Union government on Tuesday opened up vaccination for all those above 45 years of age in India. Previously, in addition to frontline workers (of all ages) and those above 60 years of age, COVID-19 vaccines were administered to persons having comorbid conditions and aged between 45 and 59 years. However, in Chennai, quite a few residents who are not under any of the instructed categories, have been able to get themselves inoculated. While some have attributed this to WhatsApp forwards claiming anyone above 18 years of age can get inoculated, others have been encouraged to do so after seeing such notices put up at a few Primary Health Centre (PHC) in the city.

However, on Tuesday, rebuffing these claims, Greater Chennai Corporation (GCC) put out a tweet that confirmed only official rules by the Union government were being followed. “Do not trust the fake news about the COVID-19 vaccine. At present, all those aged above 60 and those between 45 - 59 with co-morbidities are eligible to get vaccine. Wait for your turn to get vaccinated,” read their tweet. Notably, just a few days ago, Corporation Commissioner G Prakash told reporters that categories of frontline workers were being made broader by including street vendors, hawkers, security guards, and other informal waste collectors. 

TNM spoke to a few Chennai residents, not falling within the age bracket, who were successful in getting themselves vaccinated from government health centres. According to their accounts, the public health centres were open to administering vaccine shots to youngsters and those without any comorbidities. 

On March 21, Sunday, 41-year-old Srini Swaminathan a resident of south Chennai got his first dose of COVID-19 vaccine at a Primary Health Centre (PHC) near his house. “Like everyone else I’ve been waiting my turn. But I’ve been coming across news from foreign countries where healthcare workers are encouraging more people to take up shots, especially when there are extra doses available. I was sure it might be the case here too,” Srini tells TNM.

This encouraged Srini, who works as a consultant in the city, to approach a nearby PHC to get some clarity. “I heard mixed stories from people. My friend, who’s around my age, in fact shared that when she approached the health centre, she was not refused but asked to come back early some other day. I just thought I’d try my luck,” he adds.

It was a similar incident that also prompted 34-year-old Preethika, a media professional and her husband Narayanan Hariharan (36 years). “We saw a post that said a PHC at a place called Dasarathapuram was open to persons above 18 years of age to walk in. We immediately jumped the gun and went to a PHC at Mandaveli to see if we could get it done for ourselves,” Preethika shares.

While this particular PHC did not take them in, the couple had better luck at another PHC in Alwarpet. “Here they were open to persons above 20 years of age. We were four of us all under 45 with no comorbid conditions. The vaccination process itself was very straightforward. But I understand that today, the same PHC is not taking in persons below 45,” she adds. Over the past few days, more number of people not fitting the age criteria across Tamil Nadu have also taken to Twitter to share that they’ve been vaccinated. 

According to the information provided by Serum Institute (manufacturer of Covishield), opened vials, containing 10 doses per vial, should be discarded within six hours. Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin, on the other hand, that comes in 20 doses per vial should be used within four hours from the time of opening. This could be one reason why some of the PHC admit persons who don’t fit the age criteria to take the shot, to avoid wastage.

This is notable from the number of vaccinations done in the city. While Chennai has the capacity to administer 60,000 doses daily, on March 22, Tuesday, GCC reported inoculating just 35,747 persons. As of March 23, 5.34 lakh people have been vaccinated in the city. 

While admitting that wastage could be one among the reasons, Dr Anant Bhan, bioethics and global health researcher says, “But now that we’re seeing an increase in the number of cases, some people feel it's better to increase vaccination coverage. There could be informal communication from senior staff to not discourage walk-ins. Also, in a sense, as long as those are badly in need of it are not getting sidelined, this is okay. At the same time, we should also increase our community outreach to make sure we’re covering the entire vulnerable population.”

However, according to former Tamil Nadu Director of Public Health Kolandasamy, the focus should be on getting more people to come up and take the shot. “Ultimately, cause for concern should be when there’s a shortage of vaccines. In the absence of such a problem, what we’re dealing with is reluctance to vaccination. Therefore we should not discourage those willing to vaccinate themselves. Plans should be to expand categories and reach as many people as we can,” he explains. 

The day Srini visited the PHC at Adambakkam, he recalled, “I saw about 10 people at the centre and most of them were young, some probably in their 20s. In fact my parents too saw younger people at the PHC where they got vaccinated earlier,” he shares. 

But Srini also received hate and flak on social media for having taken the vaccine shot. “I am not stealing anyone’s chance. And frankly, I don’t suppose they would risk their job just to give me a shot,” he asserts. 

Greater Chennai Corporation has consolidated the list of vaccination centres across the city where people above 60 years of age and those above 45 years of age with comorbidities can walk in and get themselves vaccinated against the COVID-19 disease. Full list can be checked here

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