‘TIKA EXPRESS’ (Vaccine Express) vans are roaming across various districts of Bihar. Comprising healthcare workers carrying vaccines against Covid-19, the mobile vans station at designated spots and wait for eligible people to line-up for the doses. But in several places, especially in villages, the vaccine hesitancy is so high that vans wait for hours, and yet, few people turn up. Even when it is being offered for free.
Rumours rule the roost. These range from a government conspiracy to kill people to the vaccines causing impotence. Some villagers say that they are “ready to die of Covid but not of the vaccine”.
Over 1,500 kms south-west of Bihar, tribals in Melghat forest in Maharashtra’s Amravati district happily line up to get vaccinated against Covid-19. NGOs working in the area have taken the lead in educating the tribals about the benefits of getting immunised.
A video recording of a doctor speaking in Korku, the native language of the region, explaining the benefits of vaccination and urging them not to fall for rumours is one of the weapons in the arsenal of health workers and NGOs. Vaccine hesitancy is not an issue here.
Reasons for vaccine hesitancy
The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines ‘vaccine hesitancy’ as “delay in acceptance or refusal of vaccines despite availability of vaccine services.” That may be the case in countries like Russia where the vaccine hesitancy is so high that only around 7% of its eligible population has got vaccinated. This despite Russia claiming to have enough vaccine supply.
This clearly is not the problem in India where there is a short supply of vaccines. ‘Vaccine hesitancy’ in India means people declining to get inoculated for unscientific reasons. It is usually blamed on want of education, poverty and even lack of access to the right information.
Though there is no official study on vaccine hesitancy in India, Facebook’s Covid-19 Symptom Survey (CSS) provided some clues. According to it, the vaccine hesitancy rate is around 28.7% with changes across states and union territories (UTs).
How the issue of vaccine hesitancy can be overcome so that more and more people can be protected from the effects of Covid-19 at the earliest remains a challenge to both authorities and NGOs engaged in the field.
There is no doubt about the success of the vaccines against Covid-19. For instance, according to a study by the government of India, only four out of 10,000 people who were administered both doses of Covaxin and three out of 10,000 recipients of both doses of Covishield turned positive for Covid-19 showing the high efficacy of these vaccines.
Even a small anecdotal case study of Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) produces abundant evidence on the advantages of getting fully vaccinated. According to the commissioner of BMC, Iqbal Singh Chahal, not a single case of fatality has been reported amongst the 1.08 lakh BMC staff who were fully vaccinated.
Tackling the problem
The second wave of the pandemic is on the wane, but the danger of the virus again making a comeback looms large. Doctors and epidemiologists are of the opinion that the only way to tackle it is by large-scale vaccination of the eligible population.
Educating the people about the benefits of vaccination and engaging more and more communities through local governments, ASHA workers, and NGOs will play an important role in increasing the trust in the vaccination process. Local language and culturally relatable vaccination awareness campaigns could make the difference, say the WHO and India’s health ministry. This is being implemented in several tribal-dominated regions in India. Besides the use of local dialect, the use of songs and memes about the benefits of vaccination could turn the tide.
Authorities could provide incentives too. For instance, in Arunachal Pradesh, free rice in return for jabs against Covid-19 helped dispel vaccine hesitancy in a village, and many people came forward.
Accelerating the process
According to the central government’s new vaccination policy, from June 21, every citizen above the age of 18 years will be vaccinated free of cost. However, this facility can be availed only at government vaccination centres.
But private hospitals and NGOs will have a significant role in the faster rollout of the vaccine. In order to achieve this and to reach out to the vulnerable, the underprivileged and underserved sections of the society, GiveIndia in partnership with Narayana Health recently kicked their #GetOneGiveOne initiative with the first phase of vaccinating migrant labourers and the disadvantaged in Bengaluru.
Through #GetOneGiveOne, vaccine recipients at Narayana Health centres across India can donate a vaccine dose to someone in need. Corporates will also be encouraged to donate for every employee they get vaccinated through Narayana Health. If you have already been vaccinated and wish to help your less privileged counterparts get their shots too, you can also donate to Narayana Health’s fundraiser.
Established in 2000, GiveIndia is India’s most trusted giving platform for donors. Our community of 1.5M+ donors and 150+ corporate partners have supported 2,000 nonprofits, impacting 10M+ lives across India.
Kumara has been a professional journalist for over 15 years with stints in The Telegraph and Reader’s Digest. He grew up hating maths and physics. He is a post-graduate in history. Kumara believes that cricket and Seinfeld have answers to most questions that life throws at you.