Freebies in Tamil Nadu have been a part of government schemes and election campaigns and this time, they have become incentives to gather momentum in the COVID-19 vaccination drive. This idea, that is being welcomed by many, is being implemented in Kovalam, a fishing hamlet near Chennai, by a group of non-profit trusts.
The success of this model lies in the freebies the team came up with. Persons taking their shot are treated to a plate of biriyani and are also given a recharge card for their mobile phones. “Additionally we have two lucky draws, one a weekly affair and another the bumper prize,” says J Sundar, trustee of the STS foundation. Lucky draw winners can get prizes ranging from gold coin to mixie and grinder. The bumper win will come with a bike or a washing machine or a fridge, all of which have been displayed.
20-year-old Sridevi was unsure of taking the COVID-19 vaccine even until last week. A resident of Kovalam, Sridevi admits that some of the unverified rumours relating to the vaccine and general lack of awareness on it was the main reason for her hesitation. But Sridevi has been safely and successfully administered with the first dose of COVID-19 vaccine on Saturday, thanks to the COVID-19 Free Kovalam drive launched jointly by STS Foundation, CN Ramdas Trust and CHIRAG (New York based), all non-profit trusts.
Sridevi is among the 630 Kovalam residents who have taken their first dose as a result of this campaign. “I wasn’t sure of taking it earlier. But I was encouraged to after I saw the effort by the team. Now my entire family has taken its first shot,” she tells TNM. Girish Ramdas, trustee of the CN Ramdas Champions Development Trust notes, “Before the drive began, less than 100 people in the area had taken their vaccine shot. Hesitancy among people is especially high in rural areas and now that we’ve been able to see good response, we are confident of taking this model to other villages as well.” Girish is also the son of former Greater Chennai Corporation Special Officer, late CN Ramdas IAS, and also the CEO of Magzter.
CN Ramdas Champions Development Trust has support coming in from different parts of the world, most of them alumni of the 1992 batch from Don Bosco School. CHIRAG has been founded by Dr Rajeev Fernando, a reputed infectious diseases doctor from New York, also an alumnus from the school. While the work on the field is carried out by STS foundation, funds are pooled in by CN Ramdas Trust and CHIRAG.
The vaccination drive that began last Saturday has completed five successful vaccination days and Sundar tells TNM that they’ve got 748 advance bookings as of now. They've received great response so far with weekly lucky draw raffles and children donating their savings. The vaccine drive was in fact inaugurated by an elderly couple in Kovalam, Susila paati (88) and Subramani Thatha (91). “The vaccination centre is unlike a regular centre. We have created a festive ambiance to break any form of hesitancy,” he adds. Residents can call STS Foundation’s toll free number that is being circulated on social media to book a slot. Based on vaccine availability, their slots will be confirmed with a text message followed by a call. “In case someone does not turn up and their shot is available, we encourage walk-ins,” he says. The team plans on covering the entire 18+ population of 6,400 in Kovalam (both sots) within the next five months. The district administration via the government PHC in Kelambakkam is supporting the initiative by administering the vaccines to the villagers for free.