It’s been nearly six months since the Covid vaccination programme started across the country but hundreds living in Delhi’s shelter homes haven’t received a single dose.
According to the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB), there are over 209 shelters across the city. These include temporary structures housing more than 4,000 people, most of them daily wagers. However, a small fraction of them have been vaccinated.
Many headed back to work once the lockdown was lifted and were told by their employees to show their vaccination certificates. This is easier said than done as many said they don’t have any of the IDs listed on the Cowin portal: Aadhaar card, driving licence, PAN card, passport, pension passbook, NPR Smart card and voter ID.
Those with the requisite IDs said they faced trouble finding a slot on the website, and eventually just gave up.
Nandram (65), who lives at a shelter home in Kashmere Gate, said: “My son works at a mall in Saket but he was told to stop coming during the lockdown. Now his employers want him to get the first dose. Some officials came in February and took our names but never called us. I heard a few people got vaccinated at a nearby school. I went there but they asked for my ID. I don’t have one… I am here with no job and no support.”
Pant Singh (70) said he has no home in the capital and sleeps either at the shelter home in Civil Lines or Kashmere Gate.
“I am not even sure we need vaccines… Many people here fell sick and were rushed to hospitals but we never found out what happened to them. Does anybody really care about us?” said Singh.
A caretaker at the Kashmere Gate shelter told The Indian Express that over 250 people sleep inside the portacabins every day. Out of these, more than a hundred are men aged above 50. Nobody has been vaccinated, the caretaker said.
“We sent their names to the SDM and DUSIB but didn’t get a reply. During the lockdown, there were around 50 Covid cases and we shifted them to nearby hospitals. We are now trying to ramp up testing to prevent further cases,” said the caretaker.
At the shelter home in Sarai Kale Khan, more than 400 people live in the cabins but only 10 have got the shot. While health attendants claimed they sent names for vaccination, some people went to hospitals to get the dose.
Babita Devi (35), a resident of Bihar, said she and her family of five have been living at the shelter for two years. “I work as a domestic help and my employers wanted me to get vaccinated. I needed work as I have been unemployed for four months. I spoke to the caretakers but they said vaccines aren’t available. My father-in-law is also old… There were a few cases here and we got scared. Finally, my husband called his friend and got us vaccinated at RML hospital this month,” she said.
Rekha (70) and her son Ashok, who works for a contractor in Gurgaon and has been asked to show proof of vaccination, are also on the lookout.
The health attendant at Sarai Kale Khan and caretaker at Kashmere Gate told The Indian Express that they too aren’t vaccinated. “We take care of so many people and are at risk… our families too,” said the health attendant.
Meanwhile, at the shelter home near Bangla Sahib, a vaccination drive for the elderly started soon after 30 people tested positive during the lockdown. Caretakers said at least 15 people have received their first dose at an NDMC polyclinic.
“Around 180 people, including children, live here. We are trying to get vaccines as we had more than 30 severe Covid cases. There are around 45 old people here who have other ailments. We too have registered for the vaccine,” said a caretaker.
According to a senior DUSIB board member, they don’t have data on Covid deaths from such shelters since many of the occupants moved to other places during the lockdown. “We have been trying to get the vaccine for months but there’s a shortage in Delhi. Around 200 have been vaccinated, we are hoping more people will get it soon,” said the official.
Sunil Kumar Aledia, founder of Centre for Holistic Development (CGH), alleged there have been hundreds of Covid deaths at these shelters but there are no confirmed cases because many weren’t tested: “Our team members rushed many people to hospitals and also took bodies to Nigambodh ghat. There are more than 4,000 homeless people who need vaccines. Who will help them?”