“We are very worried about the COVID-19 vaccine as we see people falling sick after they took the shot”, said Rupa Devi, a mother of three young children who lives in Bhagalpur Ushari village of Manpur Block in Gaya District. The village portrays extreme remoteness where majority of the people are landless workers and are from Mahadalit community.
Like Rupa Devi, many of the villagers have some or the other reasons for COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy. And the perspective is similar across a large section of the population, particularly in rural areas of Bihar, who are still to be convinced to go for COVID-19 vaccine.
Certainly there are reasons why these people think in that way. Despite all efforts of the Government and after more than six months of launching the COVID-19 vaccine in India, vaccine hesitancy has remained one of the major challenges in Bihar. Scientists warned it well in advance indicating the underlying suspicion about vaccines among segments of the population and
mistrust of the government’s pandemic response.
The Government of Bihar has undertaken various measures to address the gaps. Mobile vans have been introduced which reach out to the communities for vaccination. However, quite often people are not aware about it’s schedule, making it ineffective to a large extent.
In some cases, where people are familiarised to get the vaccine through community meetings and public announcements, they often find it difficult to access it. Effective and planned supply of the vaccines at the last mile has remained a gap that also has negatively impacted the psyche of people. The confusion of the two types of vaccines, the gap between the two doses and their availability further add to the perplexity of the common people.
There are instances where people were turned down by vaccination centres for not possessing or producing Aadhaar Cards. It was also observed that people even missed out mobile messages for the second dose. Online booking of slots has been even a greater challenge due to the poor internet connectivity, difficulty in managing digital mode and also non-availability slots
as per choice.
The bafflement increases many fold with the misconceptions of the people, be it negative impact on health, increase infertility or disrupt the menstrual cycle. The interplay of caste and class has also broadened the gaps where evidently, the marginal communities get excluded or considered low in the priority. Typically, the women from some of the scheduled communities especially in remote areas far away from the coverage of the vaccination drive. This is a reality that the needs of women are still not considered in certain communities. All these have resulted in slow progress in the rate of vaccination in Bihar.
The State Government has started a vigorous publicity campaign, roping in various stakeholders and religious leaders, to create awareness among the people. It is also planning to start an information campaign to make people understand the importance of getting vaccinated. There is an increasing realization that vaccine hesitancy should be addressed through focussed communications on vaccine’s benefits, dispel misconceptions
and identify channels and platforms for messaging. It is vital to understand how people make decisions related to vaccination in order to create vaccination programs and roll-outs that encourage more people to get vaccinated. While awareness campaigns have been held in different areas assuring them about the safety of the vaccines no one is ready to believe.
A multi sectoral Approach along with Government and other development partners is very much needed to improve the vaccination coverage along with a strong communication strategy to address demand and supply sides.
Even though vaccination has proven to be effective time and time again, it needs to overcome a number of challenges including low uptake, social stigma and lack of accurate information in order to work. And until the women and men in the last mile get the information clear and have access to the services without any discrimination and challenge, the vaccination mission will remain and unfinished agenda.
Debashmita Bhaumik, Chittapriyo Sadhu
(The authors are working with Save the Children.)
Collection: Raj Kumar