Far From The Madding Crowd: Semmipalayam PHC in Tamil Nadu is an oasis of calm compared to the chaos of COVID-19 vaccination centres in metros

Gaon Connection travelled to a PHC at Semmipalayam village in Tiruppur district in Tamil Nadu, and found remarkable order and efficiency at work there as health workers administered the COVID-19 vaccine to the local citizens.

Pankaja Srinivasan
| Updated: March 5th, 2021

The Primary Health Centre in Semmipalayam village in Tamil Nadu. (Photo by special arrangement)

Tiruppur, Tamil Nadu

The Primary Health Centre (PHC) at Semmipalayam, Palladam block, Tiruppur district, Tamil Nadu, about 500 kilometres south west of the state capital Chennai, sits basking in the sun. It is strangely calm for a centre that is administering the COVID-19 vaccine absolutely free of cost. The atmosphere is a far cry from reports coming in of jostling crowds, long lines, multiple registration desks, and general chaos at vaccination centres in urban areas. 

Perhaps, most of its 15,000 population is out at work as the PHC hardly has about 10 men and women sitting with their masks firmly in place, on metal chairs along the wall, waiting for their turn to be vaccinated. The main occupation in the village is maize and vegetable cultivation, powerloom weaving and to some extent dairy farming.

Here, a few two-wheelers, a doctor’s car and some cycles are parked neatly outside the PHC. A few stairs up, in an impeccably clean hall with shiny floors and metal chairs, is where the action is. A man with a laptop sits at a cloth-covered table. Two nurses in white churidar and kameez work in smooth tandem. The person to be administered the vaccine is seated on a chair, her Aadhaar card is verified, and details are entered into a register. 

Perhaps, most of its 15,000 population is out at work as the PHC hardly has about 10 men and women sitting with their masks firmly in place, on metal chairs along the wall, waiting for their turn to be vaccinated. (Photo by special arrangement)

One of the ladies in white at Semmipalayam PHC checks the temperature and oxygen levels, while the other takes the blood pressure, nods reassuringly, unpacks a fresh syringe, retrieves an ampule of the vaccine from what looks like an ice box, and vaccinates. She then explains that the next dose is after 28 days, and invites the next person to take a seat. Meanwhile the data of each person being vaccinated is being entered into the laptop. Before they reach home, they will get an sms congratulating them, along with a link to a provisional certificate saying they have been vaccinated with the first dose. 

No crowding and a smooth process 

“We were the earliest people in the village to be vaccinated at the PHC on March 1,” CK Rangrajan told Gaon Connection. In fact, it was his wife, 67-year-old Indu Rangrajan, who received the first jab. The couple has lived in Semmipalayam for nearly 30 years.  “It was smooth and hassle free and so different from what we have been hearing from friends who have had to go to hospitals in the city,” Indu told Gaon Connection

“The villagers are coming in a steady trickle,” N Sudarvizhi, block medical officer of the PHC told Gaon Connection. The PHC at Semmipalayam has an Ice Lined Refrigerator (ILR) with a capacity to store the vaccine safely. The vaccine is delivered to the PHC from Tiruppur district health department about 18 kms away. “When the vaccines run low, we get a fresh consignment from Tiruppur,” said Sudarvizhi.

According to her, since January 15,  the Semmipalayam PHC has administered the vaccine to 719 people. These include 174 government health workers, 459 private health workers, 17 frontline workers and, since March 1, 69 others, most of them over 60 years of age. Of these 30 government health workers and 25 private health workers have already received their second dose of the vaccine. “We have the  capacity to vaccinate 100 people and more in a day, but the numbers have not gone up that much yet. The awareness has to be stepped up,” Sudarvizhi said. 

Also Read: Six in every 10 rural Indians said awareness drives COVID-19 conducted in their villages: Gaon Connection Survey

Semmipalayam panchayat on its part has taken several measures to spread awareness. “Announcements were made on loudspeakers to the accompaniment of a dandora (a drum), WhatsApp messages were sent and we had people even go door to door to telling them about the benefits of the vaccine,” Sheila Punniyamurthy, the 37-year-old panchayat president, told Gaon Connection. “We had about 25 COVID cases in the past year, but nothing at the moment,” she said, adding that there were no fatalities and everyone recovered.  

Also Read: the first of its kind survey conducted in December 2020, on the perceptions of rural Indians around the coronavirus vaccine by Gaon Connection Insights, the data and insights arm of India’s biggest rural media platform Gaon Connection. The survey, released as ‘The Rural Report 3: COVID-19 Vaccine and Rural India’ and is available in full for a free download on www.ruraldata.in.

When asked how he felt about being vaccinated, P Murugesan, a retired powerloom worker, who had just come out of the PHC, beamed. “We heard of the vaccination and came to the PHC. We are now vaccinated and want to tell the others that the process was pain free and smooth,” the 62-year-old told Gaon Connection. “We were asked to wait for half an hour after which we were told to return for our next dose after twenty eight days. I am grateful to the doctor amma and the nurses who patiently explained everything to us,” 62-year-old Murugesan added. 

“That is the message we want to tell the village people who are still hesitating,” said Punniyamurthy. The next step, she said, was to spread awareness through people who had already been vaccinated. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has shone the light on PHCs and the public health system in the country. It rose to the occasion and despite woefully inadequate funds and infrastructure, held its own and delivered health services in a way that the private healthcare system would do well to emulate. Gaon Connection found the same forbearance, compassion and endurance at work at the PHC in Semmipalayam.