TN vaccination drive shows great divide between Chennai and other districts

Inequity in vaccine distribution has become a concern with the bulk of vaccinations concentrated in the state capital.
A man wearing a mask getting vaccinated at a crowded centre
A man wearing a mask getting vaccinated at a crowded centre

This story is a part of the TNM COVID-19 reporting project. To support this project, make a payment here.

A glaring district-wise gap in the percentage of population vaccinated against COVID-19 has emerged in Tamil Nadu. While Chennai- the capital city - has bagged the bulk of the COVID-19 vaccines, other districts and rural areas with the exception of The Nilgiris are found to be lagging in vaccinating its adult population. This has led to concerns over inequitable vaccine distribution across the state.

TNM analysed district-wise percentages of overall population vaccinated from several districts in Tamil Nadu, and noticed that Chennai raced ahead in vaccinating its adult population, especially its 45 plus age group.  

Taking population estimates for Chennai district from the 2016 election data, and vaccination numbers from the CoWin dashboard, TNM found that 56% of the district’s population aged 18 and above had received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine and 16.9% of them had received both doses as on June 19.As on Tuesday, June 15, nearly 59% of Chennai’s population over 45 years of age has been administered the first dose of COVID-19 vaccine, and 25 % of the same age group have been fully vaccinated (both doses), said an official in the Chennai Corporation.  

In Coimbatore, only 27 % of the eligible population has been vaccinated with at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine so far, while 5.50% of the population has got both doses as of June 19. 

In the Coimbatore Corporation limit, which covers Coimbatore city, only 35% of the 45 + age group had been vaccinated with the first dose as on June 15. That is, 1.68 lakh out of 4.8 lakh population above 45 years of age have been given their first vaccine dose.

The vaccination drive in Coimbatore and Trichy has been hampered by short supply, and was suspended for a day on June 5. Shortage has also contributed to slowing down the vaccination drive in several districts.

A quick look at Madurai’s data on CoWin, shows that only 17% of the population aged 18 and above have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccination and 3.8% received both doses of vaccination as on June 19. According to the Madurai district administration, as on June 15, only 26% of its 45 plus age group had been vaccinated. 

The Nilgiris - an exception

The Nilgiris district has managed to vaccinate 33% of its population with one dose while 9.01% have been fully vaccinated as of June 19. The Tamil Nadu government has, however, been pushing to get the state’s tribal population and tea plantation workers fully vaccinated. Following this strategy, The Nilgiris district stands out as the administration has vaccinated 38%of the district’s adult population. “We have an eligible population of 5.8 lakh people who are to be vaccinated. So far, as on June 15, we have vaccinated 2.2 lakh persons with the first dose of COVID-19 vaccine,” The Nilgiris District Collector J Innocent Divya told TNM. 

The district administration is focusing on vaccinating The Niligiris’s tribal population. Out of 20,000 tribal people, 18,000 of them are above 18 years of age and are eligible to get vaccinated. “So far, as on June 15, we have vaccinated 4500 of them given the supply of vaccines. This is about 25% of the overall eligible tribal population,” she said, adding that the administration plans to vaccinate all the tribal people with the first dose by the end of June. 

Similarly, tea plantation workers in the district have also been given priority in the vaccination drives, as tea is an essential commodity. “Even during the total lockdown in Tamil Nadu, the tea plantation workers were working in the fields, since the product falls under essentials. Therefore, it is imperative that we vaccinate them against COVID-19 as soon as possible,” the Collector said. As on June 15, over 80% of Nilgiris tea workers had received the first dose of COVID-19 vaccine. 

This story is a part of the TNM COVID-19 reporting project. To support this project, make a payment here.

Other districts lag in vaccinations

The above data shows that the rural districts of Tamil Nadu, especially Ramanathapuram, Thiruvannamalai and Tirunelveli are severely lagging in vaccinations. Vaccination rates for 18+ age groups in Nagapattinam, Cuddalore, Sivaganga and Tiruvarur hover around 12-13 percent while Ariyalur, which is a smaller district has seen 19.67 % of its 18+ population vaccinated with at least one dose. 

Vaccine distribution based on demand and supply

Tamil Nadu Health Secretary J Radhakrishnan said the divide has appeared due to initial patterns of vaccine acceptance in the districts.

“Frankly speaking, this was an issue of demand and supply. In the first few months of 2021, vaccines were being distributed to districts which had more demand as distributing it to districts with low demand would have led to wastage,” he explained, adding that vaccine hesitancy levels were low from the beginning in Chennai, as compared to rural districts such as Nagapattinam and Ariyalur. 

“Chennai Corporation had done grassroots level awareness campaigns for vaccination. This also helped and we saw a huge demand for vaccines from Chennai. After that was Coimbatore, Madurai and Trichy. These districts are likely to have marginally higher vaccination rates compared to rural districts even in the future simply because of early vaccine acceptance. This is the reason for the divide that has emerged now,” Radhakrishnan adds. 

However, with the second wave of COVID-19, the entire ecosystem has changed and vaccine hesitancy has stopped being a major concern for the Health Department, he said. “It is normal for a 15-20% vaccine hesitancy level in every district. But with the second wave, people have realised that it is the only permanent solution and there is more acceptance for vaccines. Now we are seeing 400 odd people waiting at 4 am near a vaccine centre in Velankanni, in Nagapattinam, when prior to the second wave Nagapattinam’s vaccine acceptance levels were very poor,” Radhakrishnan explained. 

Chennai Corporation Commissioner Gagandeep Singh Bedi, however, added that the district was also a major hotspot for COVID-19 cases both during the first and second wave and this prompted the government to look at vaccinating its population faster. The Chennai Corporation has also paid attention to the daily vaccination schedule, SoPs etc to make sure the doses were well distributed in the city limits,” he told The Hindu.

(With inputs from Anna Isaac, Edited by Anna Isaac) 

TNM COVID-19 Reporting Project is funded by our readers. We would like to thank the following people for making this story possible: K Bhaskar, Ganesh Chakravarthi, Krithika Muthuraman, Nishant Radhakrishnan, Abhirami Girija Sriram, Yogeesh Prabhuswamy, Shravan Kumar, Parthiban Ammamuthu, Alexander Babu, Joseph Manoj, R Bhagwan Singh, Laya & Advaith, Devnath M and many others. 

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