Urmi Chanda
Urmi Chanda

While the nation grapples with the second wave of Covid-19, there is another kind of struggle that Mumbaikars face on a daily basis. Ever since the vaccination drive has been opened for the 18+ age category, several people have been trying for days to book a slot via the CoWin site and been unsuccessful.

With just 500 daily slots available at each centre, the struggle to book a slot is real and the chances of securing one depends entirely on how quick you are and an abundance of luck. The Free Press Journal caught up with one such lucky Mumbaikar, who was able to secure a slot on her first attempt.

How long did it take you to register on CoWin and get a slot?

To be honest, I made an earnest attempt to get the slot only once i.e. last evening and got lucky to have got the slot for my first vaccine shot for today. I had, however, registered my partner and myself about 7-10 days back (you can register up to four people from one number) when registrations for the 18-44-age category were rolled out on the COWIN site/app. A quick note for those who are not familiar with this: you have to first register yourself through the website cowin.gov.in and then log in using the app, which can be downloaded from any app store. For registration, you will need to provide your phone number and details of any one government ID such as passport, PAN card, Aadhar card, etc. The only way to log in is using the OTP method, and although the app gives you the option of logging in using a password, I saw no way of setting a password on the site.

Did you feel frustrated with the process at any given point of time?

Since registering on the site, I had tried logging in a few times to understand the process and given up because no slot ever seemed to be open or available. Also, the COWIN site often failed to send an OTP on time and the session would time out. I figured that using the Aarogya Setu app to register for vaccines was much better - at least the OTPs come through. But registering is easy; the real "jackpot" is actually getting a slot. I also learnt that it is highly unlikely to find any vaccination centre listing if one uses their area pin code as search criteria. Use the state and district classification.

After reading user experiences on Twitter for a few days did I realise how BMC opens registrations in short windows every day and how one must combine elements of information, access, a fast internet connection and luck to actually get a slot. Yesterday, my partner and I sat hawk-eyed for BMC's tweet about the timing, and once we figured the window ("shortly after 8pm their tweet read), we sat with our phones simultaneously trying to book slots. It worked for one of us.

Did you have any apprehensions about getting the vaccine, given the plethora of false alarms on Social media?

None, whatsoever. I am a firm believer in the science of vaccination and have been very sure about getting it the moment I could. Following some credible medical professionals on Twitter such as (Dr.) @faheemyounus has helped tremendously to maintain the right perspectives.

How did you travel to the Vaccination centre from your home? Was it a smooth ride or were you checked/asked questions at any point of time on the street?

I took an auto rickshaw to the vaccine centre and back - from Versova, Andheri to Goregaon. It wasn't exactly close to home but when frantically trying to book a slot, I wasn't calculating distance. One shouldn't have to go so far from one's home for something as fundamental as a vaccine.

The BMC CVC (Covid-19 Vaccination Centre) slot I managed to get via the app was Dindoshi (Goregaon), but in the absence of any listed address, I had to ask around a little. It turned out that the vaccine centre was in Santosh Nagar, Malad/ Goregaon East at a BMC school. My slot was between 1pm - 2pm, so I left for the centre well after the 'lockdown' limit of 11am. I reached there at around 12.40pm without once being stopped or checked or asked by any cops as to why I was out and about. But I had the BMC-issued SMS on my phone to show if any such checks had happened.

How long did you spend at the Vaccination centre?

In all, I spent about an hour and a half at the vaccination centre, from arrival to exit. I believe this particular BMC CVC was inaugurated just that morning.

How was the experience from the time you reached the centre?

When I got to the centre, I was pleasantly surprised to see that it was a BMC school and a lovely-looking building at that. I was happy to have my notion about government-run schools proved wrong and it makes me happy to imagine many children from underprivileged backgrounds studying in such clean, organised precincts. The ground floor of the school-turned-to-CVC was clearly demarcated into waiting, vaccinating and observation areas. There was no overcrowding in any of the areas but some more social distancing would have been desirable. However, most people were not just masked but double masked and it made me feel safe. After being in the queue for about 30 minutes (there were chairs, so waiting wasn't a problem), I went to the registration window, where I showed them the BMC issued SMS (which had a registration number and a 4-digit code) and my ID proof (carry the ID proof that you used to register yourself). I was given a paper token, mentioning my name, the type of vaccine, the dose number and the timing. I took the token and went into the vaccination area with a couple of booths, each with two nurses and a doctor. I entered one booth, where I was given the vaccine with a new syringe, told what symptoms I might experience (headache, body ache, pain, fever) in the next three days, given three paracetamol pills, which I was instructed to take after my meals irrespective of symptoms. I was told that if symptoms persisted beyond three days, I should consult a doctor. This took just about a minute. I then had to go to the observation area, where an official noted my details and I was asked to sit around for 15-20 minutes. I was asked to save the paper token and bring it back for my second dose of Covishield after 45 days.

Any tips you would like to give to people who are still trying to book a slot?

If you have access to Twitter, follow @mybmc (BMC's official Twitter account) and keep track of their tweets that announce the slot openings for different age brackets. Usually, this is around 7-8 pm. There are also some aggregator sites such as covialerts.in which send you alerts on Telegram on when slots are opened - both paid and free; subscribing to these alerts may help keep track if Twitter is not your thing. Dedicate at least 15-20 minutes around the time the slots open, stay logged into Arogya Setu/ Cowin and refresh continuously to see which new vaccine centre slots are opening. The slots are gone in seconds, so you must be quick. And finally, good luck! Wanting to stay alive shouldn't have to be this way, so vote for the right people who prioritise public services over religious agendas, continue to hold your leaders accountable, and seek better systems.

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Urmi Chanda is an Interfaith Scholar, IFIID and Independent Culture Writer Sr. Program Coordinator, India Program, Seeds of Peace, Communications consultant, Indian Documentary Foundation

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