Save the Children has been actively involved in COVID-19 relief response work since 2020. The last few months were dedicated to the procurement and distribution of oxygen concentrators and medical equipment. Our team also worked around vaccine advocacy and facilitating the vaccination process have started at the grassroots where young adults and children are leading the conversation on it. The vaccination drive at the Public Health Centre in Pune, Maharashtra, began on March 4. Save the Children provided support for on-ground implementation. One of the volunteers, Dhanshree Bhalerao (21), helped raise vaccine awareness and explain the vaccination process to the beneficiaries. She also assisted in record-keeping work. And she did all of this in the middle of the peak COVID-19 second wave.

Dhanshree Bhalerao, a 21-year-old journalism student, could have listened to her family and stayed at home, safe and relaxed but chose not to do so. Braving the brutal COVID-19 second wave, she began volunteering at a Primary Health Centre (PHC) in Loni Kalbhor, a few kilometres from Pune in Maharashtra and helped people register online for vaccinations. Going against her family’s wishes wasn’t easy, but she had her mother’s support in the fight.

“Before joining Save the Children as a volunteer, I was confused and worried about joining. My family was asking me to think this through. Then I thought about the nurses and doctors who are working since last year, giving services to people. If they also thought like me then who would have brought the situation under control? Who would have treated so many patients?” said Dhanshree.

If the sight of thousands of migrant workers trudging back home was uncomfortable to watch during the first year of the pandemic, then the desperate cries for oxygen concentrators and bodies piling up at hospitals during the second wave were horrifying. The second wave did not spare even the young, with reports of children being hospitalized after testing COVID-19 positive. The healthcare system was overburdened, and the doctors, healthcare workers and caregivers were stretched beyond their limits. In a situation like this, the decision to step out of the house and volunteer at a PHC was nothing short of brave.

“I started working at the Loni Kalbhor Primary Health Center on 28 April, 2021. I spent the first two days understanding the PHC set-up and getting to know the staff and their functioning. From May 1, vaccination for people between 18 and 44 years started. We, a team of Medical Officer, nursing staff and myself, worked in coordination and got people registered online. Till 2 pm, I would manage the registration counter. After that, I would be busy doing data entry work of various records related to the vaccination process, doing follow-up calls for COVID patients who are admitted in hospitals and who are in home isolation,” said Dhanshree.

When vaccinations started around December-January, many stayed away out of fear and misconceptions. But with more awareness and information on the vaccines, people started coming into the PHC.

Dhanshree said, “On an average, our team administers 300 vaccines per day. There was also a time when the number reached up to 800.”

While working at the PHC, Dhanshree got vaccinated. “I take care of myself while working at the PHC. I take precautions like using double masks, sanitizers, frequent hand washing and bathing after going home. All the staff at the PHC, including medical officers Dr. Jadhav and Dr. Rupali, are very supportive. If we don’t understand something, they patiently explain it to us considering our non-medical background.”

The vaccination drive came with a distinct set of problems. Sometimes, vaccines were available, but people were not reaching the centres, and in other times, the PHCs were crowded with people, but there were not enough vaccines. There were confusion and questions about availability, eligibility, when and where to take the first dose, and how to register online.

Sharing more about her experience at the PHC, “After the announcement for vaccination, there was a huge rush at the PHC. Lack of space, the huge crowd, became a problem, and it required good coordination among us to control the situation. We even had to shout at people for not following proper physical distancing. To avoid such crowding, we also started a coupon system.”

Dhanshree also helped people above 60 years register online for the vaccine, keeping them updated on their vaccination dates and required documents. “Working together was fun. I had planned to work only for a month, but now I have decided to continue for another month,” she said.

The vaccination drive at the Loni Kalbhor PHC started on March 4. Save the Children provided support for on-ground implementation. Two volunteers, Dhanashree and Renuka Satpute, helped raise vaccine awareness and explain the process to the beneficiaries.
They helped check their BP and SPO2 level, directed them to the nurse concerned, made sure they were kept under observation for 20-25 minutes after vaccination, and recorded their information in the system. They also informed the beneficiaries about the dates for their second doses.

On days when vaccination was not happening, they called COVID-19 positive patients and inquired about their health, whether they were at home or admitted to the hospital. If the patient is isolating at home, the volunteers would ask them about O2 level, whether they have a fever or any other complaint. In case a patient is admitted to a private hospital, they helped in tracking their discharge process.
We are all thankful for their support and work.

Save the Children is providing support to Primary Health Centers (PHC) for vaccination drives in Pune, Maharashtra. The team has been placed at 5 PHCs in Haveli Block, Pune (one of the intervention areas). The volunteers are engaged in raising awareness in the local communities on the importance of vaccination and the availability of vaccines at the PHCs. They are helping people, especially senior citizens and those who are facing challenges, for online registration. At the PHC level, they are supporting the PHC staff in the documentation required for vaccination and managing the crowd to adhere to physical distancing norms. There are in all 10 volunteers currently placed at the 5 PHCs, two at one PHC, respectively.

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