Maharashtra’s districts of concern in Covid fight: In Kolhapur, young adults await a jab | Mumbai news - Hindustan Times
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Maharashtra’s districts of concern in Covid fight: In Kolhapur, young adults await a jab

ByJyoti Shelar, Hindustan Times, Kolhapur
Jul 31, 2021 04:31 PM IST

Kolhapur has emerged as a district of concern for Maharashtra contributing the highest daily caseload in the state since June 23. And while it tops in vaccinations of those above 45 years, it has also vaccinated the least number of people between 18 to 44 years.

Prathamesh Sutar did not allow anyone to enter his home without spraying sanitiser on their hands. The 30-year-old resident of Kolhapur’s Ambewadi village ran a photo studio above his two-room home and even sprayed sanitiser on the currency notes and coins that his customers paid him. Earlier this year when Covid-19 vaccinations for the 45+ population was rolled out, Sutar ensured that his parents were immediately inoculated.

Residents of Wadanage village queue up on July 20, 2021 to get vaccinated. While Kolhapur district was still seeing higher than 5% average positivity rate between June 1 and July 20, it was in a downward trend. (anil velhal)
Residents of Wadanage village queue up on July 20, 2021 to get vaccinated. While Kolhapur district was still seeing higher than 5% average positivity rate between June 1 and July 20, it was in a downward trend. (anil velhal)

The thick tail of Maharashtra’s second wave

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After the Centre allowed vaccinations for all above 18 years starting May 1, he tried to book a slot on the CoWin platform, but with little luck. On June 1, Sutar started showing symptoms of Covid-19 disease and on June 3, a CT scan revealed a severity score of 18, which indicated that the infection had spread widely into his lungs. On June 12, Sutar succumbed to the virus.

“He was restless since he could not find a vaccine slot,” said mother Sujata (48). “Had he got the vaccine, he would have perhaps been alive, sitting with us right now,” she said. Sutar symptoms appeared a few days after he attended a relative’s wedding. Though he did not have any underlying ailments, he was overweight.

Young and unvaccinated

Kolhapur has emerged as a district of concern for Maharashtra contributing the highest daily caseload in the state since June 23. And while it tops in vaccinations of those above 45 years, it has also vaccinated the least number of people between 18 to 44 years. As of July 24, the district had administered a little over 1.7 million doses of which only 64,559 -- or 3.7% doses -- were administered to those between 18 to 44 years.

In Pune, rural areas drove surge

One of the reasons that the administration offers is that they must give priority to those who needed to receive their second dose of the two vaccines that are currently part of the national vaccination programme – Covishield (the second dose must be administered after at least 84 days) and Covaxin (the second shot must be administered after at least 28 days). This is understandable as the full efficacy of the vaccine – rates differ for both but are significant nonetheless in preventing severity of disease and death – can only be achieved after both shots.

Kolhapur’s vaccination rate for 18 to 45 age group stood at 2.4%, which was lower than neighbouring districts like Sindhudurg (13.9%), Sangli (8.6%), Ratnagiri (12.4%), and Satara (7.7%) among others.
Kolhapur’s vaccination rate for 18 to 45 age group stood at 2.4%, which was lower than neighbouring districts like Sindhudurg (13.9%), Sangli (8.6%), Ratnagiri (12.4%), and Satara (7.7%) among others.

What’s more, despite opening vaccination to all adults of May 1, the Centre changed its procurement policy only the following month after vaccine manufacturers indicated that they preferred to deal only with the Union government. Currently India has made available three Covid vaccines, Covaxin, Covishield and Sputnik. It needs another 1.5 billion doses by the end of the year to completely vaccinate the entire adult population -- its stated target.

In Sangli, monitoring system vs lockdown fatigue

By the second week of July, Kolhapur’s vaccination rate for 18 to 45 age group stood at 2.4%, which was lower than neighbouring districts like Sindhudurg (13.9%), Sangli (8.6%), Ratnagiri (12.4%), and Satara (7.7%) among others.

This trend has led to a concern with new infections driven by the younger, largely unvaccinated population. For instance, between March and December 2020 (considered the first wave by district officials), nearly 35% of infections were seen among 21 to 40 years. The infections jumped to 42% in this age group between January 1 and July 10 (second wave).

“We vaccinated a large number of people above 45, taking the district to the top,” said Kolhapur’s civil surgeon Dr Anil Mali. “But since we covered such large numbers and with limited vaccines coming in, we have to prioritise the same population for the second dose,” he said.

Aggressive testing and contact tracing to ensure isolation remain the other two spokes in the district’s strategy to control the spread of the virus.

Traders protest

On July 19, non-essential shops in Kolhapur were allowed to open after protests from the trader community, including those from Ichalkaranji, the textile city of Kolhapur. The district moved from Level 4 to Level 3 in lockdown relaxations: allowing non-essential shops and establishments (cloth, shoes, hardware, stationery etc) to remain open on weekdays till 4 pm. Earlier, only medical and grocery shops considered essential were allowed to remain open.

In Satara, superspreader events drive up caseload

“It has been difficult to sustain the business since Covid-19 hit us last year,” said Srinivas Kudalkar (40), who runs New Sundar Fall Industries in Ichalkaranji’s Janata Chowk cloth market. Kudalkar sustained his nine employees throughout the lockdown by offering only 50% salaries. “I would have been forced to cut down my staff had the restrictions continued any further,” he said. Many traders like Kudalkar are unvaccinated, and health officials believe that a spurt in cases is likely once business resumes.

The issue is compounded by an increasingly lax behaviour displayed by many who no longer follow Covid appropriate behaviour like using masks and washing hands. One can spot many mask-less people in some of Kolhapur’s busiest markets and other crowded spots.

“We are all on the edge,” said Sandesh Mahajan (37), who sells the famous Kolhapuri chappals at the Shivaji chowk market in Kolhapur city. Merely 200 metres from the Mahalakshmi temple, Mahajan’s business largely depends on the tourists and devotees. But since the places of worship are shut to prevent the spread of the disease, there is hardly any business for small shopkeepers like Mahajan. “I have to keep the shop open even if I sell only one pair of chappals. “I know it is risky to be in the shop without being vaccinated. But I have no choice,” he said.

Mahajan has a housing loan and a car loan. He had to dip into his savings to pay the installments over the last few months. Mahajan found a slot in a private centre, but the high cost of the dose ( 1050) was prohibitive: he simply cannot afford it right now, he said.

Some like Rahul Nimankar get the risk, and left no stone unturned to get the Covid-19 jab. The 36-year-old loom owner drove 45 km to the neighbouring state of Karnataka to get the vaccine on June 10. “With the full-fledged opening of businesses, I had to ensure my own safety,” said Nimankar, who has nearly 50 workers, most of them from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

Before the pandemic, Nimankar had a monthly turnover of 60 lakh. He said that the turnover has dropped by 50% now. A majority of his staff are yet to get the vaccine. Other loom owners like Nimankar are now deliberating on ways to get vaccines for their fellow workers. Loom owners in the area have already held two meetings to discuss ways to roll out targeted vaccinations for traders and their staff.

According to Kolhapur’s district health officer Dr Yogesh Sale, the people have become desperate, making it difficult to implement the Covid-19 measures. “The trader community argued that they would prefer to die of Covid instead of hunger. Others who felt trapped in their houses during the lockdown have let down their guards, many are attending functions and weddings,” said Sale. “A third spurt is unavoidable,” he added.

Meanwhile, in Ambewadi village, not a single person in the 18 to 45 year category has been vaccinated till date and Sutar’s death triggered panic in the village youth.

“Only 51 individuals above 45 are yet to get their first dose of the vaccine,” said Dr Nasreen Magdum, the community medical officer in the area. “We have not started vaccinating those between 18 to 44 years, but a few people may have got the dose as frontline workers or as their family members,” she said.

“I have been pushing my company to procure vaccines. I have also asked the village sarpanch to take up the issue and I have been regularly checking with the primary health centre, but there is no update on opening vaccinations for the 18 to 44 population,” said Akshay Jadhav (28), an audit supervisor with a petrol pump chain and a resident of Ambewadi.

“It’s important to secure the elderly, but it’s also crucial to safeguard people like us who are often the main breadwinners and have to step out every day,” said Jadhav, who worked closely with Sutar, editing the photos his friend took.

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