Record vaccinations on Modi’s birthday include false certificates, point to coerced numbers

A COVID-19 vaccine dose being administered on 17 September 2021, in Rajasthan’s Beawar city. That day, India logged a record 2.5 crore vaccinations in one day, under a massive campaign launched to celebrate the prime minister Narendra Modi’s birthday. But soon, reports started coming in that the numbers were misleading. PTI
27 September, 2021

“My mother got vaccinated two days prior, on 15 September, but the vaccination centre refused to update the status on the CoWIN portal the same day,” Pranay Narware, a resident of Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh, said. “Next day, when my mother contacted them, she was informed that her name has been kept aside for the mahaabhiyan, and hence, asked her to wait till 17th.” On 17 September, India logged a record 2.5 crore COVID-19 vaccinations in a single day under the aegis of a mahaabhiyan, or great campaign, to mark the prime minister Narendra Modi’s birthday. Narware, who accompanied his mother for her second dose, said that he initially thought there must be some problem with the centre’s servers till his mother told him what she had been informed by the centre. When Narware’s mother’s certificate was finally uploaded on the day, instead of the Saraswati Vidya Mandir, in Ayodhya Nagar, where she got her shot, the certificate said “SDM Govindpura.”  

While the record vaccinations were celebrated with much fanfare, several citizens have since come forward with reports of discrepancies in their vaccinations, which suggest an attempt to falsely bolster vaccination numbers on the occasion of Modi’s birthday. The Caravan spoke to 13 people across different states who either reported that their vaccinations certificates were issued on 17 September despite getting vaccinated earlier, or that they received vaccination certificates for their second dose that day without actually getting the shot. In several of these cases, the vaccination centre that issued the certificate for the second dose without actually administering the shot was different from the centre where the first shot was given.

Questions were also raised after an investigation by Scroll that quoted several officials in Bihar and found that “while they carried out large-scale vaccinations on September 17, a significant chunk of data uploaded on that day was actually of people vaccinated offline over the previous two days.” Extrapolating this trend, a look at vaccination numbers across the country in the days before and after 17 September also indicate that the numbers on Modi’s birthday may have been misleading. On 16 September, the countrywide vaccinations were around 70 lakh, the next day, the number jumped to 2.5 crore; the day after that there was a sudden drop to 85 lakh, which further dropped to 77 lakh on 19 September. Over the next three days, the number of vaccinations stood at 85 lakh, 68 lakh and 64 lakh, respectively.

Husain Baji was among those who were issued a certificate for the vaccine on 17 September without getting a shot. Baji, a final-year student of architecture from Vadodra, Gujarat, said, “I got my certificate without even taking the second dose.” In addition, his certificate had been issued by the Desaiwada UPHC 2, in Dahod, his hometown. Baji added, “As I had received the certificate, I was scared about not being able to book a slot for my actual vaccination.” He told me that he went to the Kendriya Vidyalaya, a government school, where he had received his first dose, to check what could be done. “Surprisingly, the healthcare workers there did not have a problem with giving me the dose there.” Baji added, “What’s peculiar here is that my second dose happened in Vadodara but the certificate says it happened in my hometown Dahod, I wasn’t even there.”

Baji told me that he knew of more people in his locality who had gone through the same confusion. “There are seven-eight more people who faced a similar situation. They were not vaccinated but received a certificate on 17th itself.” He had put up a post on social media to which several people responded with similar accounts. He said that he initially thought it was “a small town thing but after speaking to my friends, I realised there might be a bigger picture to this.”

The experience of Arshad Ali, from Tirupati, in Andhra Pradesh was similar, and points to another glitch with the CoWIN app and the processes of vaccination—the lack of contact points in case of issues such as these. At around 8.30 am on 17 September, Ali got a text message that he had been successfully vaccinated and by following the link, he will be able to download his certificate. “I couldn’t have been more shocked,” he told me. “The very next moment I tried calling the CoWin support but every time I called, my call used to get disconnected.” Ali said that when he eventually managed to get hold of an official via the support desk, the official “asked me not to make an issue out of it and get the jab straight away from the vaccination centre.”

Ali is still waiting for the authorities to help him resolve the issue. “I am an educated person, I can write and be vocal about the issues that I face but what about the people who don’t understand all of this, or are illiterate.” He added, “This is the reason why other countries don’t rely on our portals.” Ali was also frustrated that there is absolutely no point of contact, emails or phone numbers for the problems with the app. This was a recurring theme in all my conversations. There were no contact details available on the internet, on the CoWin app and on local government websites for most of the vaccination centres of the affected people that I spoke to.

Another such case was of Raafiya Fatima, a resident of Hiriyur in Karnataka, who got her first jab on 15 June and was due for her second dose. Fareen, Rafiya’s sister, told me that due to exams, Rafiya had decided to delay her shot and not book any slot. “Everything was fine until Rafiya received a notification that she has successfully completed her vaccination and it freaked us out as to how this is even possible,” Fareen said. She added that they called the 1075 helpline number but were told that “there’s nothing much the authorities can do about it” and asked them to visit the vaccination centre. Rafiya’s first vaccination was done at the Hiriyur UPHC, while the certificate was issued by another vaccination centre named KEB Hiriyur.

Tushar Vaishnav and his wife were also told something similar. Vaishnav lives in Keshod, in Gujarat’s Junagard district. At around 8.00 pm on 17 September, he and his wife received a message that both of them have been vaccinated with the second dose. “Initially, I thought it must be a mistake but when I saw both our names on the certificate, I couldn’t make sense of anything,” Vaishnav said. The certificate had been issued by a vaccination centre, Mendarada CHC, which is around 25 kilometres from Vaishnav’s house.

Vaishnav said that he went to the centre on 18 September to confront the authorities—only one nurse was present there. “As soon as I tried talking to the lady there, she instantly told me that she has nothing to do with this and cannot help me in anyway. She even said ‘Jao jisko bolna hai bol do’”—go tell whoever you want. Vaishnav said that when he reached the centre, he found out that there were at least five more people at the centre with the same complaint. He said that the nurse refused to attend any complaints and just “asked them to sit and gave them vaccination without any entry or even looking at the Aadhar card.” One of the other people present at the centre did a Facebook Live and tweeted a video where they are confronting the nurse.

Sourabh Mourya, from Vadodara, told me that he “randomly opened the CoWIN app on 17th only to find that a certificate for second dose had already been generated while I did not even take it.” His second shot was scheduled for between 29 August to 26 September. His certificate had been issued by the Timbi centre. “I hastily reached the centre and got myself jabbed as they were continuing the vaccination till midnight.” Mourya also said that he “knew others who got false notifications of being jabbed.”

The case of Raju Kumar, from Hilsa, in Bihar is even stranger. He got his first dose in June, from the PHC Hilsa 2, and was waiting for his second jab. Kumar told me that on 15 September he got a call from the centre for the second jab and was informed that he can take his second jab anytime that week. But around 3.30 pm on 17 September, Kumar received a notification that he had been successfully vaccinated and could download his certificate. Kumar said he was very surprised because he had just spoken to the centre two days ago. He told me that when he called the centre, he was asked to keep quiet and come for vaccination whenever he wishes to.

In most of the cases, we could not track down the vaccination centres. The union ministry of health and family welfare did not respond to written queries and the chief medical officers of the concerned districts were unavailable.