Unreasonable targets push health workers to fudge entries
Several fake entries have crept into COVID-19 vaccination data in Tamil Nadu. The reason, according to a number of healthcare professionals and workers, is “unrealistic vaccination targets” that resulted in “undue pressure”, forcing them to make fake entries.
Inquiries with healthcare staff across the State confirmed that many fake entries have cropped up in COVID-19 vaccination data. Reliable sources in the Health Department said in some instances, multiple identity cards of individuals, readily available line-list with mobile numbers that include even deceased individuals, were utilised to make entries on the CoWIN portal. In some cases, database of mobile numbers not in use for a long time were obtained and made use of.
Complaints of wrong entries have been surfacing in many parts of the State of late. In one instance, the mobile number of an unvaccinated senior citizen in Chennai received two text messages in October, months after he had died, stating that two different individuals were vaccinated with the first dose of Covishield.
More recently, a government employee, who was fully vaccinated many months ago, was surprised when he received three SMS in a span of two to three minutes notifying that three persons had been vaccinated — one of receiving the first dose, while two others were fully vaccinated — using his phone number. In another instance, a nurse found a man, who claimed to have not received the first dose, already registered on the CoWIN portal as received the first dose of Covishield.
A section of medical officers said most of these complaints were of fake entries.
“Fake entries are a real problem. The pressure to achieve unrealistic daily targets has left many in a pathetic situation. For instance, a primary health centre is given a daily target of 250 doses. But they are able to convince only 75 to 80 persons to get vaccinated. So, they get identity cards from individuals or the line-list of persons and make fake entries. What is needed is not unrealistic targets but a scientific approach to encourage people to get vaccinated,” an official source in the Health Department said.
A government doctor said some of her colleagues had obtained a database of mobile numbers not in use for a long time to make fake entries.
“They had no choice as the pressure to achieve these targets was building up. If these unrealistic targets were not met, they were called to attend late evening meetings to give an explanation,” she said.
A medical officer, on condition of anonymity, said, “Do not fix targets. Instead, the department should motivate public to get vaccinated by different means. The department is pushing us to complete the target. So, healthcare workers themselves are making fake entries to achieve the target.” Earlier, memos were issued to staff for not achieving these targets.
“In fact, a number of persons have been coming to my primary health centre complaining of getting such SMS with different names. This is happening because the majority of persons who are due for their second dose have not turned up,” the officer said.
Similarly, a nurse in a rural area admitted that they were coming across at least four to five such entries every week of late.
A health official pointed out that many healthcare workers were under severe stress. “The field-level staff are being humiliated during door-to-door vaccination drives. The remaining unvaccinated are a highly reluctant population and we need different kinds of measures to reach out to them,” he said.
In the light of complaints on fake/false certificates for COVID-19 vaccination, Director of Public Health and Preventive Medicine T.S. Selvavinayagam issued a circular to all deputy directors of health services (DDHS).
He called the incidents “highly regrettable, punishable and not an ethical practice” after working hard since February 2020. They were told to issue necessary instructions to all field health staff/outsourced staff not to indulge in such practices and ensure that vaccination certificates are entered only after confirming the individual was vaccinated.
They were instructed to initiate immediate disciplinary action as per rules against persons involved in such practices. Any violations or lapses on the part of DDHS would be viewed seriously, he said.
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