Lucknow: Sarita Tripathi, a 47-year-old mother of three, has been trying to avoid the Covid-19 vaccination ever since the vaccination for people above the age of 45 years started.
A resident of Hariharpur in Khalilabad district of eastern Uttar Pradesh, Tripathi says that she has heard a lot of things about the vaccination leading to poor health or even death.
“There are a lot of fears in my mind regarding the vaccination. I have heard that a lot of people have either died or are badly sick due to it so I am not taking it now. Once everybody takes it, I will also take my jab,” the homemaker says.
Tripathy is not alone in bearing such convictions about the Covid-19 vaccine.
“My neighbours have also not taken the jab. We have been hearing a lot of things that are nothing but the side effects of vaccines taking the lives of the people. The only option with people these days is death, you either die with corona or die after taking the vaccine,” she says adamantly, refusing to take the shot.
Indal Kashyap, a resident of Ramshala village in Sitapur of central west Uttar Pradesh, has also not taken the vaccine saying he fears for his life.
“I feel that these Indian vaccines are not useful and they may lead to bad health post vaccination. I have heard from my friends and also through social media that few people have died even after getting vaccination,” says Kashyap, 22, who is a second-year undergraduate student.
He says that people in his village are also avoiding taking the shots due to the spread of information (misinformation) such as these.
“Let vaccines like Sputnik or Pfizer arrive in India, then I will take my shots. I have asked my parents as well to wait for a few days and have read in the newspapers that those vaccines are arriving soon,” he says, adding, “There are a lot of questions over the data and testing of these vaccines and foreign vaccines have been showing good results, so it is better to wait for them.”
There is a large amount of misinformation spreading across the rural areas regarding vaccination. As per a report published in a Hindi daily, over 200 people from the Sisauda village in Barabanki district jumped into the river when health officials reached the village for the vaccination drive. Sisauda village is about 100 kilometres east from the state headquarters of Lucknow.
The villagers, over two hundred in number, jumped into the Saryu river fearing that they would be forcefully vaccinated. The villagers, however, came out of the river after a long discussion with the health officials, but even after that, only 14 people out of the total population of 1500 could be inoculated.
Dr Nikhil Singh, the superintendent of Jarwal block community health centre in Barabanki district, says, “The department is working very hard but there are some misconceptions amongst the villagers due to which the task of inoculating people has become challenging.”
While people are resisting to get vaccinated in rural India, the digital divide has also become a major problem for the citizens with little knowledge of smartphones.
Shubash Tiwari, a resident of Dewa Road in Lucknow, has become a victim of the digital divide as he could not yet book a slot for getting vaccinated. The 38-year-old says that he does not know much about the Cowin application which is why he could not get vaccinated. The government has mandated online registration on the Cowin portal for vaccination and the vaccine certificates are also issued online.
“I went to the Chinhat community health centre but they asked me for my registration and I could not be vaccinated. Since then, I have been trying to book a slot but I do not know how to do it,” Tiwari says.
“I am a travel driver by profession. I am not ‘Mobile Literate’ and I do not know how to operate these applications. Had it been a manual thing then it would have been easier for people like me. Otherwise, we are going to live without these vaccines for a lifetime,” he says.
Meanwhile, the Uttar Pradesh government spokesperson told Newsclick on phone that an order has been passed by the government to set up Suvidha Kendra (facilitation centres) where people can register for the vaccination slots free of cost.
Vaccine Rumours and Fear
Renu Singh, an ASHA worker deployed in the Bakshi Ka Talab area of Lucknow says that the ASHA and Anganwadi workers have been facing a lot of resistance and anger from the villagers who are in no mood to get vaccinated.
“We, the foot soldiers of the health department, are trying very hard to get people vaccinated in the rural areas but there are a lot of misconceptions regarding the vaccines. People think that they may die after getting the shot and the fever that comes after getting the shot has worked like a fuel to this fire. It is very tough. We have also got to know that ASHA workers, especially in the Bundelkhand region, have been threatened by the villagers,” Singh told Newsclick.
Azeem Mirza, a senior journalist based in Bahraich, one of the most backward districts of India, blames the situation on lack of awareness campaigns. He says, “The lack of communication by the government has led to this condition. People are scared of vaccination. Not only rumours like it may lead to death but also like fitting a microchip in the body through vaccination have done a lot of damage to the vaccination drive and made it a tough task for the health department.”
A senior officer posted with the Lok Bhawan (Chief Minister’s office) in Lucknow told Newsclick that a decision on spreading the awareness in rural areas is expected very soon as the problem of rumours related to vaccination has been reported from few of the districts.
According to the Director of Information Department in Uttar Pradesh, Shishir Singh, so far 1,29,28,280 people have been vaccinated with the first dose and 33,47,533 people with the second dose. Total of 1,62,75,813 people have received the jab in total. The officer, however, did not reply to the query sent to him on phone on efforts by the government to contain the rumours around vaccination.
According to additional chief secretary Navneet Sehgal, “4,800 new COVID-19 cases were recorded in UP today (Sunday). Active cases are at 84,800, down by almost 2,26,000 from the peak in the last 20 days.”