Hesitancy due to fear hampers COVID vaccination drive in rural Karnataka

Asha workers and Anganwadi school teachers say the fear of adverse reaction on the body, superstitious beliefs and a lack of information make people avoid the jabs

An empty vaccination centre in rural Bengaluru.

Hesitancy in taking COVID vaccine shots out of fear is a problem in rural areas of Karnataka  that the administration is grappling with.

Asha workers and Anganwadi school teachers, who disseminate information in villages, say the fear of adverse reaction on the body, superstitious beliefs and a lack of information make people avoid the vaccine shots.

9 am, April 7: Hoskote taluk hospital in Bengaluru (rural): The vaccine administration has started, but the hospital wears a deserted look. People started to walk in only by 9.40 am. There were just 8 people for the next 40 minutes. Just a handful of people turned up in the day.

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Kasturibai Hagaragundagi, 71, was the only woman to take the vaccine in the first hour. She had visited the hospital on April 4 only to find they had run out of stock.

Hagaragundagi, who did not step out of the house for nearly a year now, gained confidence only after her son Murigenna VH, 49, took a vaccine last week and showed no symptoms of fever or any allergic reaction.

“People in my surrounding are slowly gaining confidence. While it’s been a month since they opened up the drive for senior citizens, we want to wait and see. First I took the vaccine and had only body ache. Looking at that, my mother agreed to take the jab,” Murigenna said.

The entire vaccination process — from registration to administration — took barely 3 minutes. Anyone who took the jab was asked to wait in the hospital for 20 minutes to check for breathlessness, dizziness and allergic reactions, if any.

Dr Satish Kumar, chief medical officer at the taluk hospital, said though they are allowed to administer 200 vaccine doses a day, not more than 80-120 people walk in daily. “Not many people are coming forward to take the vaccine. People are still hesitant and we have informed the state health officials to extend awareness programmes far and wide,” Kumar said. He feels that with the opening up of the vaccination drive for people aged above 45, they are seeing a considerable crowd. Though the rural hospital is located 25 kms away from the state capital, the awareness in rural areas, both about the vaccine and about the novel coronavirus, remains poor, adds Kumar.

A doctor at Hoskute taluk hospital in Rural Bengaluru helps a woman register for vaccination.

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India rolled out the mass immunization programme on January 16, 2021, for frontline workers, including healthcare professionals. Senior citizens above 60 years of age were allowed from March 1 and people aged 45-plus with specific co-morbidities were allowed to vaccinate from April 1.

When asked about the reason for resistance among the rural household, Prameela V, an Anganwadi school teacher from Doddagattiganabbe village in Hoskote, says people question the need for a vaccine and say they have not taken any injection or vaccine in their whole life, so why should they take it now.

“It’s hard to convince them as they see on TV news about people getting infected despite taking the vaccine. Though we try to explain that it would reduce the severity, they aren’t convinced,” Pramila says.

“In my village, there are about 80 houses with 400 people. Of this, about 120 people are aged above 50, but the coverage in the past month would just be a third of the target group.” Pramila goes door-to-door explaining villagers about the vaccine and the need for it.

A woman taking the COVID vaccine shot at Hoskute taluk hospital.

In Karnataka, nearly 50 lakh people have been vaccinated so far. Nearly 4 lakh people, aged above 60, were vaccinated in Bangalore urban. The number in Bangalore rural is just 32,300, as per the COVID bulletin on April 6.

With a view to increase the reach of inoculation, the Health Department improved infrastructure with cold storage facilities and allowed primary health centres, community health centres, taluk hospitals, district hospitals, medical colleges and private hospitals to administer the vaccine.

Nearly 5,500 vaccination sites are operational across the state including 650 private and 4,850 government facilities.

While the registration process remains simple and health officials help villagers to register on the COWIN App, in some places, health officials say technical glitches and shortage of vaccine vials posed a challenge.

Some small and medium sized private hospitals in the state complained of not getting enough supplies, but the district administration denied any shortage.

State health minister Dr K Sudhakar said the state received 4 lakh doses of COVID-19 vaccine in March last week and another tranche of 12 lakh doses is expected in early April. “Measures have been taken to ensure there is no shortage of vaccine in the state. I urge people to make the best use of the available stock,” the minister had tweeted.

A villager taking the COVID vaccine shot at Hoskute taluk hospital.

Dr. C P Nanjaraj, director at Mysuru Medical College, who is insisting on opening up vaccination for all at the earliest, requested to not to be complacent. “We see a lot of people still roaming around without masks. People should wake to up the new wave of COVID cases and not be complacent. The district administration should increase the reach of awareness programme,” Nanjaraj said.

On April 6, Karnataka witnessed 6,976 positive cases on a single day with nearly 35 COVID related deaths.

 

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