Midnight vigils, snaking queues as some Indians await COVID-19 vaccines

SILIGURI, India: Residents of a city in north-east India are spending nights in snaking queues outside vaccination centres awaiting their turn for a COVID-19 shot, an anomaly in a country with a surplus of vaccines.

In Siliguri, a city in West Bengal state close to India’s border with Bangladesh, local police sometimes have to be brought in to control unruly crowds of people gathered outside vaccination centres.

“Today, we have received 300 vaccines, but 500 people are already waiting outside,” said Ruma Guha Podder, a health worker who is part of the vaccination team.

The modest size of vaccination centres and a shortage of staff account for some of the queues, two local officials who declined to be named told Reuters.

But a lawmaker from the ruling party in the state, which is opposed to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, said the delays were down to the federal government that controls vaccine distribution to states.

“We have been asking the government for more vaccines… (but) now we have to knock at their door,” Santanu Sen, a lawmaker from the Trinamool Congress, told Reuters, adding that some BJP-ruled states had a glut of vaccines.

A spokesperson for India’s health ministry did not respond to a request for comment.

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