Anti-vax campaigns, low faith in allopathy keep vaccine hesitancy alive in TN
Hesitancy against the COVID-19 vaccine remains one of the biggest concerns for states, even though the Centre over a year has ensured the complete vaccination of 70 per cent of the country’s adult population while administering over 93 per cent with the first jab.
Take Tamil Nadu for instance. Allegations of mandatory vaccination, lack of faith in allopathy medicine and rumours against the efficacy of COVID vaccine are some of the reasons that have deterred people against taking the jab.
The state’s vaccine coverage of the first dose for those above 18 years stands at 88.50 per cent and for both the doses is 64.02 per cent.
A statement released by the State Directorate of Public Health and Preventive Medicine (DPHPM), said that on analysing the 191 deaths that have happened since January 1, 2022, 131 (68.5 per cent) were of patients who were either not vaccinated or partially vaccinated. Around 85.3 per cent of the 131 deceased were aged above 50 years.
Deaths high among unvaccinated elderly
“Vaccination percentage of elders in Tamil Nadu is competitively less at 62 per cent for first dose and 48 per cent for second dose, when compared to the state’s overall achievement of 88.62 per cent for the first dose and 64.23 per cent for second dose as on January 16 (sic),” the statement said.
Based on the findings, Dr Selvavinayagam, director of DPHPM, said that an elderly and unvaccinated individual having comorbidities needs hospital-based care to prevent mortality.
“It’s time to protect our elders by vaccinating them and also enduring that they take proper medication for comorbidities and keep the condition under control,” he said in the statement.
Not only the elderly, younger, unvaccinated individuals, are also getting admitted to hospitals despite not having any comorbidities.
On January 16, Mohammed Karimullah, a 25-year-old succumbed to the disease at Chennai’s Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital (RGGGH). According to a report by Times of India, affected by the Delta variant of SarsCov-2, Karimullah was in the ICU for more than 20 days. He didn’t have any comorbidities, but was not vaccinated against COVID. When doctors asked his family why he was not vaccinated, they said it was because of “fear”.
Doctors at RGGGH say that it is the unvaccinated who are ending up in the ICU.
Anti-vaxxers up against ‘compulsory vaccination’
Several parents in the state resisted against vaccinating their wards when the government rolled out the COVID vaccine for teens in the 15-18 age group earlier this month.
The reason is being attributed to vaccine resistance campaigns run by anti-vaxxers on social media. A few anti-vaxxers with whom The Federal spoke to said they were opposing the ‘mandatory vaccination’ imposed in the country. They say even though the government claims that vaccination is not mandatory, the situation on ground is completely different. For instance, the districts administrations of Madurai and Krishnagiri in December made COVID vaccination mandatory for people to enter public spaces like malls, shopping complexes, cinema halls, private and government offices, schools, colleges, wedding halls and hotels among others.
A similar order was also issued in neighbouring Karnataka. The Kerala government has also announced that people who are not vaccinated wouldn’t be eligible for free treatment if they get infected with COVID.
“The point we try to make is be it allopathy medicine or traditional medicine, don’t force it on the people. Let them decide what they want,” said Balakrishnan, coordinator of Mayiladuthurai-based Iyarkai Vazhi Vaazhviyalalargal Koottamaippu.
“Recently the Union government told the Supreme Court that COVID vaccination is not mandatory. However, in reality, things are different. There should be an informed consent before inoculation. But nowhere the practice is being followed,” he said, adding that asking people to follow one medical practice (allopathy) itself is a form of fascism.
‘Vaccination programme a sham’
Several anti-vaxxers believe COVID should be treated as yet another flu and that the vaccination is not as effective as the government claims.
“We are treating COVID-19 as just another fever that is spreading due to climate change. No one in our family has been vaccinated against COVID, including our children. Due to the COVID vaccine, some children died immediately after the vaccination. Although we don’t have any proof to substantiate these claims, we are even not allowed to discuss these issues in the public,” Poonkathirvel, founder of now defunct Tharchaarbu Makkal Katchi, Ramanathapuram district, said.
Poonkathirvel said that even the COVID-19 tests are not decisive.
“In the morning, one gets a ‘positive’ test result, but it in the evening the same result turns ‘negative’. When doctors and scientists are not sure about the virus, then how can governments justify the vaccination programme?” he asked.
Poonkathirvel said that even though anti-vaxxers are against any type of vaccines, in order to prevent further confusions, they are now only opposing the alleged mandatory vaccination that is being imposed by states.
What doctors say?
Dr V Pugazhendhi, an allopathic physician said that the vaccines that are being administered now are effective to handle Delta variant and not Omicron.
“It is proved that there is no difference between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated in spreading the virus. To be more precise, wherever the number of vaccinated people is high, the spread of Omicron is high. But the hospitalisation is largely decreased because Omicron is mild and it cannot be termed as the success of vaccination,” he said.
He added that while recent studies recommend that the vaccines should be tweaked to fight the Omicron variant, the same is not being done.
“The Omicron variant mostly affects the elders who have heart-related ailments. So the government should form a group in each and every district and identify people with heart ailments. These people should be vaccinated on priority. This is what the South African experiences show. But many doctors instead of focusing on target groups, issue warning for the entire population and create unnecessary panic in the process,” he added.
A Siddha doctor said that claims by anti-vaxxers that the COVID-19 vaccine will alter their genes is without basis while hinting at a convergence of medical practices during the crisis. Considering that the vaccine is beneficial to treat the disease, the doctor said, all AYUSH practitioners should put their differences (with allopathy) aside and advise patients to get themselves vaccinated.
He said all Siddha practitioners working in government hospitals of the state were advised to get vaccinated and most of them had their jabs.
“Since vaccines help in saving lives, we advised our patients to take the jabs, even if they follow Siddha medicine. We have opened many centres across the state to treat COVID-19. But no such centres were opened for other medicine forms like Ayurveda, Unani, homeopathy, etc,” he said.