In the last few weeks, as the demand for liquid oxygen tanks and COVID-19 vaccinations has surged in India, so has the need for space to administer them: maintaining six feet of social distance can be unrealistic for those seeking treatment or shots at hospitals, amid regular reportage of capacity constraints across the nation. Provided vaccine shortages are surmounted, can the spatial challenges of administering them be tackled in India’s most crowded cities?
From a global perspective, an approach that has shown evidence of success has been the use of museums, stadiums, heritage structures, theme parks, and municipal gardens as vaccine centres. New York City—which still holds the highest recorded number of COVID-related fatalities in a metropolitan setting—pivoted in this direction after the virus first shook every fibre of its fabric. As vaccines initially trickled in, frontline workers were given breathing room to fight back by using otherwise empty facilities that were suitable and accommodating to the administration of inoculations.
Abandoned malls, supermarkets, and parking lots were converted into vaccine centres along with touristic sites such as The American Museum of Natural History, Aqueduct (equestrian) Racetrack, and sporting arenas Citi Field and Yankee Stadium. This effort helped lift the vaccination onus from hospitals that had previously operated at highly stressed capacities; Manhattan’s Mount Sinai Hospital had resorted to a temporary tent camp triage centre in Central Park for a month in 2020.
In India, shuttered malls (Ambience Mall in Delhi), sporting stadiums (Sardar Patel Complex, Ahmedabad), open-air grounds (BKC, Mumbai), and several metropolitan-based workplaces have been enlisted in the primary rollout of vaccines. However, the woeful number of vaccines currently available hasn’t yet been conducive to a wide array of such adaptable vaccination sites that could alleviate stress on the pre-existing healthcare system—which has shouldered most of the vaccinations in India so far. Dr. Sumit Ray, the Critical Care Chief of New Delhi’s Holy Family Hospital, told NPR that the institution was operating at 140 per cent capacity in early May, just one of many accounts on the curtailing of safe spaces that double as vaccine dispensers. Notwithstanding these limitations, according to publicly released production estimates, India’s vaccine drive will kick into higher gears in the coming months.
As the internal vaccine flow feasibly moves from a rivulet to a river, more domestic rollout centres may mirror the growing use of international destinations as distribution hotpots, such as Romania’s Bran Castle and Singapore’s Raffles City Convention Center. With many structures that house all manner of Indian institutions, presently, not operational, this may serve as a cue for vaccine distributors to open said doors as the supply of inoculations gradually reaches for the demand at hand: an important threshold to cross in order to cast off the claustrophobia that now cloaks the Indian subcontinent.
Transportation hubs and ports of entry across the world have doubled as distribution centres, be they clinics at Singapore’s Terminal Four at Changi Airport (the Maldives reported a similar plan to be implemented in the near future) and dockyards of Miami-based cruise ships, or pop-ups along the New York City subway system.
As stated earlier, sporting stadiums have proved to be some of the most adaptable vaccination hubs. Some of the largest setups have been Shanghai’s Jiading Basketball Stadium, River Plate basketball court in Buenos Aires, NYC’s baseball grounds (Citi Field and Yankee Stadium), and Manchester’s mega soccer training ground, Etihad Campus. Berlin’s Erika Hess Ice Stadium and Moscow’s Krylatskoye Ice Palace, both popular skating arenas, have also outfitted themselves as POD sites. Racetracks have been another vaccination centre avatar, notably Fort Worth’s Texas Motor Speedway and Epsom Downs, an equestrian racecourse south of London.
Theme parks have offered their expansive grounds for inoculation drives, though they are most pervasive in the U.S.A.—which currently holds both the highest number of vaccines and theme parks in the world—some of the first being California’s Disneyland and Maryland’s Six Flags America. The Time Capsule, a waterpark in Coatbridge, Scotland, has also come up with a similar setup. Fairgrounds, like the locale of Serbia’s Belgrade Fair, have followed suit.
Many religious structures have also opened their doors to those in search of vaccines, particularly in the UK. The 800-year-old Salisbury Cathedral, Neasden Temple (Europe’s largest Hindu place of worship), and Baitul Futuh Mosque (Western Europe’s largest Islamic centre) are among the largest vaccine centres of their ilk. Bangkok’s famed Traimit Temple has also opened for vaccinations but at this time, is only allowing monks to avail of its service. A vast array of historical structures has proved to be alternatives for vaccine rollouts, including Frankfurt’s neo-baroque Festhalle (a popular concert venue), Romania’s Bran Castle (known as Dracula’s castle), and Stockholm’s City Hall (where Nobel Prizes are awarded). Some of the most iconic vaccination photographs have been of Brazilians receiving their shots under Rio’s Christ the Redeemer statue. Museums, many of which are housed in historic walls, such as Manhattan’s American Museum of Natural History, London’s Science Museum, and Turin’s Castello di Rivoli Museum of Contemporary Art, have also joined the fray. The same goes for theatres, be it the conversion of The Helix Theatre in Dublin or Philadelphia’s Theater of The Living Arts.
While these converted destinations forge a way forward, they further underline the dominant vaccine disparity between wealthy Western countries and vast swathes of Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. The way forward is a route the world has to travel together, and until vaccines can be safely administered at places like the Gateway of India or Nairobi’s international airport, the journey to a different era will feel endless.
Note: Some of these centres may longer be operational.
Julian Manning can usually be found eating a crisp ghee roast with extra podi. The rare times his hands aren’t busy with food, they are wrapped around a mystery novel or the handlebars of a motorcycle. He is Assistant Editor at National Geographic Traveller India.