Feeling helpless and frustrated, Ravi Mishra dialed every possible number to find out how his brother was issued a COVID-19 vaccine certificate from the government without actually getting jabbed.
“At about 10:45 pm on September 17, I received a notification that my brother Radhey had been vaccinated and I could download his certificate. I checked with him and he hadn't gone anywhere near the vaccination centre,” Mishra told VICE World News.
Mishra couldn’t make sense of the text message from the government, so he scoured the internet and even tagged the authorities on Twitter, saying “I am afraid if my brother will ever actually get vaccinated or not.”
Last week, India celebrated Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s birthday by claiming to have administered 25 million COVID-19 vaccine jabs in a single day, surpassing all records since the start of the vaccine drive.
As leaders and supporters of Modi’s ruling party trended hashtags like “Thank you Modi Ji” on Twitter, people from different Indian states started tweeting screenshots of the text messages they received from the government’s COVID-19 app CoWIN, instructing them to download their vaccine certificates on September 17, Modi’s birthday.
VICE World News spoke to about a dozen Indians who claimed they were not actually vaccinated against COVID-19 on September 17.
Prasiddh Anurag received the same text message as Mishra from CoWIN. He had been struggling to book a vaccination appointment for himself and his mother for a while, so the message he received on September 17, telling him that his mother had been successfully administered with the second dose of the vaccine, baffled him.
“My mother and I are still unvaccinated but got this notification from the Cowin portal and how?” Anurag tweeted, tagging the health ministry.
Hozeifa Hazi and his wife received their first vaccine dose in June, and they were waiting out the 80-day interval to get their second dose, when both of them received a text notification from CoWIN that they had “successfully completed” the vaccination process.
“Money has been collected from us in the name of a vaccine. Also, it is a criminal offence to fudge numbers,” Haji told VICE World News.
In other cases, people who had completed their two vaccine doses days before September 17 were prevented from receiving their all-important certificates until Modi’s birthday.
Pranav Kumar Das, an engineer in Bhopal city, waited eagerly to receive his certificate after receiving his second vaccine dose on September 15. He waited and waited, but no CoWIN notification came – either through email or text message.
Frustrated, Das walked up to the managers of the vaccination centre and asked about his certificate.
“I was informed that it was the higher authorities that forbade them from issuing the certificate before September 17, in view of Modi’s birthday,” Das told VICE World News.
The sudden rise in vaccination on September 17 raised many eyebrows. The government data before and after that date, suggests vaccine doses administered per day was quite low. On September 16 the vaccination number was around 7 million. On Modi’s birthday, a day later, the number went up to 25 million and apparently on 18 it came down to 8.5 million. The numbers have kept decreasing since.
India’s Ministry of Health did not immediately respond to VICE World News’ request for comment.
The Modi-led government was the main source of the vaccination figures. The government has been criticized for its COVID-19 response, including its vaccine drive that could barely keep up with the daily caseload of infections. An average of 2,000 people died when a devastating second wave of infections hit India earlier this year. Many hospitals faced a shortage in oxygen supply, which the government denied before parliament. In May, India exported more than 57.9 million vaccine doses to more than 70 countries, while millions of Indians back home were still waiting for their turn to be vaccinated.