"Not all superheros wear capes. Many wear sarees."
The line stuck in my head the moment I heard it.
ASHA workers, Anganwadi workers and other field level volunteers have emerged as true heros in the pandemic.
When I heard that two districts in Andhra Pradesh were running out of vaccine doses, my first thought was for my friend's octogenarian father. His second dose of CoviShield was due, and I hoped he would be able to get it.
Unfortunately, my fears were well founded.
In the heat of an Indian summer, he travelled all the way to the PHC where he'd taken his first shot, only to be told that they had run out of doses.
My friend was worried- what if he didn't get the second dose at all?
"Don't worry about Tatagaru", the ASHA worker assured my friend. "I'll make sure he gets his second shot."
Two days later, she kept her promise. Through informal networks she came to know a PHC had received vaccine doses, and she took him there and got him vaccinated.
ASHA workers have a long list of duties to perform. They are constantly busy conducting awareness campaigns, monitoring expectant and new mothers, ensuring care to patients and dealing with emergencies.
Ensuring that residents receive COVID vaccination isn't one of them.
Yet, many of the ASHA workers have voluntarily taken on the burden of creating awareness, mobilizing people and taking them to PHCs to get them vaccinated.
They also end up tracking the second dose much more effectively than COWIN.
This is nothing new for them.
ASHA workers played a significant role in the success of the Polio Eradication campaign.
People in rural areas trust ASHA workers. That can be leveraged to conduct community level vaccination drives to ensure optimal coverage.
Will it add to their existing burden? Not if the number of ASHA workers is increased. Right now, there is one ASHA worker for every 1,000 population (less if the habitations are small). That ratio can be improved by adding more ASHA workers. At this moment, there is more than enough work for all of them, and even after full vaccination, there will continue to be new things that come up to keep the additional ASHA workers engaged.
We do have a Superhero Army in Sarees. Why not use them?