The government-mandated online registration process for COVID-19 vaccination has starkly exposed the digital divide in Telangana, with the Internet savvy urban population cornering access while the poorer, less aware rural people are left out as the second phase is rolled out.
Unable to find online slot in the Twin Cities, several urban residents are zeroing-in on available slots in the countryside for their vaccination even though it might mean a drive of nearly a 100 kms. While the digitally savvy city-dwellers are happily walking out after a jab, the local villagers are struggling to book slots.
The divide is clearly visible at the Chinchod Primary Health Centre, 76 kms from Hyderabad on the Ranga Reddy-Mahboobnagar district border, where staff are administering Covid jabs to urbanites swooping on its rural hinterland as slots are unavailable in the city for 45/60 + citizens. The nondescript PHC is lined with high-end cars as nurses step out to vaccinate beneficiaries seated inside the air-conditioned cars.
Akondi V.M. Rao, 63, and his wife Vasantha Lakshmi are typical of these beneficiaries, who drove from Manikonda in Hyderabad after days of searching for slots, running through lists of postal pin codes before they zeroed on Chinchod.
Or L. Chandrahas Reddy, who has driven his grandparents all the way from Chandanagar near BHEL for the second dose of vaccination as he could not get for over a week even at Sangareddy or Zaheerabad.
On the other hand, rural residents, many without access to smart phones and lacking the digital skills needed to book slots — many are unaware of the requirement — are left out of the crucial safety net.
“Some youth from Kamsanpalle village in Shadnagar are helping a few villagers to register on the CoWIN app. When told by the PHC staff to register their names, the hapless villagers are forced to travel in autos to Shadnagar — the nearest town, 23 kms away — and search for an Internet kiosk to register their names paying ₹10-per head,” said Mr. P.V. Siva Kumar of Hyderabad, who drove his wife B. Satyavani to the Chinchod PHC to get her second jab.
People like M. Shantamma, 80, of Chinchod are turned away by nurses from the free vaccination as she had not registered on the CoWIN app.
“We are uneducated, what do we know,” wept the octogenarian as she bent to touch the feet of the nurse.
In erstwhile Medak district, those who have had their first jab are desperate to get the second one but to no avail. Several government teachers, who had taken the vaccination are searching online for slots to get the second jab. Mr. Mallikarjun, a teacher working in Marepally in Kondapur mandal of Sangareddy district made a futile bid to get the second dose of vaccination. Its 43 days since he got his first one but there are no slots available.
The plight of those who lack literacy is worse as many of them got their first jab on site but are now returning empty-handed everyday as there are no slots.
“There are several in our village who got first dose of vaccine. Now officials are asking them to get online registration. Many do not have smart phones. Several of them do not know how to operate even the key pad-based normal phones. For registration, they have to visit Meeseva centres which are at far off places. Hence many of the common people are not showing any interest in getting a second dose. They say that they get vaccination whenever government offers it without any glitches,”,” said Sudarshan of Teropl village in Kondapur Mandal.