A Shot at 11000 Feet

The White Coat Project

People’s Archive of Rural India

About a hundred people can be seen outside the Primary Health Centre, Panamic, waiting for their Covid-19 vaccination jabs. For some context, the PHC is at 11,000 feet above sea level, and it’s one of the highest vaccination centers all around the world. Merely bringing and stocking the Covid-19 vaccines to most parts of the union territory of Ladakh is quite a feat. Not to forget the challenge involved for those having to reach the center from remote places.

But there is more to this center than its extraordinary altitude: it vaccinated 250 army personnel in the region in a single day, all while working with an internet connection that barely loads Google homepage and extremely poor communication facilities. And when asked how they manage this, Tsering Anchok, the cold chain handler here said, “It’s easy!  We handled it with patience. We worked long hours, but in the end, we got it right.” This basically means they labored many hours over faulty net connections to do what took mere minutes elsewhere. And even more hours over the actual vaccination process.

The staff at this PHC puts in all they have in themselves to make it work. Some even bring their children to the vaccination center, even for night shifts, to look after them especially during long working hours. Sure, there was chaos in the beginning. With little resources and poor infrastructure, Leh was not equipped to deal with the spike in COVID cases. They didn’t even have testing facilities and had to send their samples to Chandigarh, so it would take them days to get the reports. Now, they can test up to 1,000 people daily.

The healthcare team at Leh came up with innovative ideas to face their challenges. After the first dose, they wrote down the unique numbers and the date for the second dose of the vaccine on paper. They then pasted that chit of paper on the back of people’s valuable documents. Like on their Aadhaar card, for example. That’s how they managed the entire process. And to date, it has worked well for the villagers.

Another major and uncommon problem was that of vaccine wastage. While in the rest of the country people are not getting slots for vaccination due to vaccine shortage, here in Leh, only four or five people turn up in a four-hour session, as they travel from really distant regions. So the chances of wastage are higher. To avoid that, many of the doctors traveled to these villages a day before and ensured that people would arrive at the PHC on time. A very tedious process, but it worked. 

It is commendable how the nurses, pharmacists, doctors, overcame the challenges and made the drive successful. At the moment, they are vaccinating not only the people of Ladakh UT but also the seasonal migrant laborers, Nepalese workers, and even unvaccinated tourists coming from other states. The inspiring role of frontline workers remains beyond question as they traverse this challenging terrain and the problems it brings with it in these uncertain times.”

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