By Vrinda Lobo
New Delhi: At the beginning of the COVID-19 Vaccination Drive it was expected that people would be skeptical, fearful and reluctant towards taking the jab. The Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare is working closely with all the States/ UTs in addressing and sharing the issue of ‘Vaccine hesitancy’ on a regular basis.
The Government of India has been supporting the efforts of States and UTs for an effective Vaccination drive under the ‘Whole of Government’ approach since 16thJanuary, this year.
‘Vaccine hesitancy’ is a globally accepted phenomenon and should be addressed by scientifically studying and addressing the issue at the community level. Keeping this in mind, a ‘COVID-19 Vaccine Communication Strategy’ covering details on ‘Vaccine hesitancy’ was shared with all the States/ UTs at the beginning of the COVID-19 Vaccination Drive. All States/ UTs are following the same and adopting the strategy as per the local requirement. Several IEC materials and prototypes for all media – print, social & electronic media have been prepared and shared with states for suitable adaptation at the state level.
In India, according to the reports of rural grassroots Health workers who are struggling to bring awareness, ‘vaccine hesitancy’ has been reported among the people. People run away as soon as they see health workers coming. Villagers feel the vaccine has side effects and can even result in death. There are rumors in villages, that vaccines can cause impotence, for instance, and that the COVID-19 vaccine is a ploy by the government to kill people. Some people also believe that they simply do not need vaccination.
The majority of India’s 1.3 billion population is living in villages with little health infrastructure. There is a deep-rooted mistrust in the rural areas against the government, and it’s health infrastructure. It is not only misinformation and rumors which lead to this mistrust, but a very poor health infrastructure in rural India and negligence by the central government.
The second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic has hit the rural areas like a tsunami, killing thousands.
COVID-19 vaccination offers a way to transition out of the pandemic. Without it, many scientists believe that natural herd immunity would not be sufficient to restore society to its normal status quo. In order to achieve the goal to end the pandemic in India and globally, taking up the issue of ‘vaccine hesitancy’ is most important. A united ‘COVID-19 Vaccine Communication Strategy’ sounds good on paper, but the financial and medical resources are needed to make it work and to support the health workers struggling at the grassroots level.
An information and awareness campaign is urgently needed, as well door-to-door counseling and providing transport to vaccination centers, especially for remote villages, to convince people to take the jabs. Only an information, education and communication (IEC) campaign can combat ‘vaccine hesitancy’ across India.
To combat ‘vaccine hesitancy’ across India, though, Covid-19 vaccines need to be available in the first place. That is where the whole crux of the present problem lies.