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Volunteers spread word on vaccines to India's poor after deadly COVID-19 surge

·2 min read
Madhura Samel sits in a taxi as Om Rajesh Yadav, a volunteer from Robin Hood Army, a volunteer-based organisation, is reflected in a taxi window before they reach a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccination centre in Mumbai

By Uday Sampath Kumar

BENGALURU (Reuters) - Volunteer groups are spreading the word about getting COVID-19 shots to India's poor and elderly, and ferrying some to vaccination centres in rickshaws and cabs following a surge in infections that killed hundreds of thousands.

SEEDS, an organisation that does relief work during natural disasters, has focused its efforts on poorer communities, where it says many lack even basic information about the vaccines.

"We found out that a whole lot of people above 60 weren't even aware that they could vaccinated and protect themselves," co-founder Dr Manu Gupta said.

SEEDS members are going door-to-door in the poorer parts of Delhi and the villages of north and west India, helping citizens register their details on the government's vaccination portal and transporting some of them for free to inoculation centres.

About 170,000 people died in April and May when a second wave of infections ripped through densely-packed cities and India's rural hinterland, and health experts say mass vaccination is the only way to prevent further loss of life if another surge happens.

A second NGO, Robin Hood Army, has partnered with Uber Technologies Inc to provide free rides to vaccination centres in Delhi and Mumbai.

Its co-founder, Neel Ghose, urged the government to speed up the process by taking its vaccination drive to people's homes.

"For this to be really effective, it needs to be like the way we thought about polio 20 years back, where we reached the doorsteps of people with vaccines and not the other way around."

The government has said a door-to-door COVID-19 vaccination campaign is not possible due to the risk of contamination and wastage.

(Reporting by Uday Sampath in Bengaluru; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and John Stonestreet)

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