Syllabus– General Studies-2 (Health)
Various incidents of vaccine hesitancy have been reported across the country in recent months.
- In Uttar Pradesh, villagers reportedly jumped into the river due to rumours about the vaccines causing impotency.
- In Kashmir, Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) of Baramullah declared that “adding to vaccine hesitancy should be treated as abetting murder.”
- In Madhya Pradesh, health officials were attacked over vaccine hesitancy.
All this is happening even after in early January, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) released the ‘Covid-19 Vaccine Communication Strategy’. This comprehensive document with action points was supposed to serve as a guide for national, state and district level authorities to fight vaccine hesitancy.
- Ever since India started “the world’s largest vaccination programme” on January 16, major attention has been given to
- shortages of vaccines,
- the tussle between the Centre and states over prices,
- the overall slow pace of the drive and
- patent and production barriers.
- Vaccine hesitancy has been ignored, with the underlying assumption that it will disappear with higher vaccine availability.
But vaccine hesitancy has remained and is building up to be a problem for the future.
Trends in Vaccine hesitance
- Facebook’s Covid-19 Symptom Survey (CSS) in India show troubling numbers on vaccine hesitancy. It shows-
- India’s vaccine hesitancy rate is around 7 per cent with variations across states and union territories.
- Vaccine hesitancy rates are as high as 42 per cent in Tamil Nadu and 41 per cent in Punjab as per CSS.
- Highly-informed groups like medical students across 22 states have shown a 10.6 per cent vaccine hesitancy in a survey conducted by AIIMS Jodhpur.
What should be done?
- The strategy should be to tackle vaccine hesitancy with community engagement and not with force.
- Temptations to invoke extreme measures to fight vaccine hesitancy need to be avoided by both political and administrative leaders.
- The central government should certainly focus on improving communications strategy for Covid-19 vaccination based on
- direct community engagement,
- trust building measures and
- Several district officers and health workers across states are taking innovative measures to fight vaccine hesitancy with through offline means.
- The government needs to create a platform which enables collaborative learning of district administration and health workers. Examples-
- Maharashtra’s Nandurbar district administration is using mobile teams to tackle vaccine hesitancy.
- In rural Chhattisgarh folk songs are being used to spread the right information on vaccination.
- Groups and geographies with the highest vaccine hesitancy need to be identified and targeted communication interventions need to be created to address their concerns.
- Misinformation around vaccines even at the international level is creating havoc in rural areas as the false post attributed to a Nobel laureate showed us last week. The National Media Rapid Response Cell (NMRRC) set up under the Covid-19 vaccine communication strategy needs to alert district collectors across India about vaccine fake news in real time.
- Governments need to rope in celebrities, community leaders and mass influencers to generate credible voices for vaccination, just like Amitabh Bachchan did for the Pulse Polio campaign.
So far only the state of Punjab has appointed official ambassador Sonu Sood for vaccination.
A comprehensive review and evaluation of the Government of India’s Covid-19 vaccine communication strategy needs to be conducted considering the fast pace of infection and the ever-changing scenarios in vaccine hesitancy. Covid-19 vaccine hesitancy cannot wait to be addressed till supply chain issues are fully sorted. Delay in intensive efforts means delaying the end of the pandemic and puts us at risk of ignoring several human rights concerns in the vaccination drive.
Question- How vaccine hesitancy can prove to be a roadblock in fight against Covid? Also prescribe solutions to address vaccine hesitance in india.