The COVID-19 vaccine has often been falsely linked in some parts of India and even in places around the world, to the devil, impotency and poison.
In the latest and most extreme case of vaccine hesitancy, villagers in Uttar Pradesh’s Barabanki dived into the Sarayu river on Saturday (May 22) to escape being vaccinated by a team of health officials, who had arrived to inoculate them.
The villagers sought refuge in the river since they had been told that the vaccine is nothing but a poisonous injection. An India Today report said that though the local administration had explained the benefits of vaccination and tried to squash such myths and false information, only 14 people had been vaccinated in the area, according to the sub-divisional magistrate of Ramnagar tehsil, Rajiv Kumar Shukla.
Vaccine hesitancy, described by World Health Organisation (WHO) as “delay in acceptance or refusal of vaccines despite availability of vaccine services,” is being seen in various parts of India. it has become complex because of the speed at which it was developed as well.
However, vaccine hesitancy is being reported in the north-east as well. There have been news reports of villagers and tribals in remote parts of Chhattisgarh strongly resisting taking the vaccine. They either believed the vaccine is going to kill them or make them impotent. In Nagaland, too there has been a lot of hesitancy to take the vaccines, with even healthcare workers not getting the shot when vaccination began, said reporrts. 40 per cent of the state’s healthcare workers are yet to fully vaccinated.
Besides misinformation spread through social media, fringe religious groups or prayer warriors have been dissuading people in the north-east not to take the vaccine and linking it to an “evil force,” said a report by scroll.in. They have instead asked to heal themselves with a concoction of faith and herbs.
Further, the report added that officials in Manipur also claimed to have experienced higher vaccine hesitancy in the state’s hill districts. Though there was hesitancy everywhere, there was strong vaccine hesitancy shown in hill areas, and according to officers in charge of immunisation, there seemed to be a belief that the Bible would save them.
India has been struggling with vaccine shortage as citizens in the age group of 45 plus are scrambling to get their second dosage. Even as there is a severe shortage of vaccines for the 18 years to 44 years age group. However, all experts have been stressing the importance of vaccination as a crucial method to curb the spread of COVID.
Meanwhile, India, with a death toll of over 300,000, is the second most affected country in the world, after the USA. India reported 240,842 new positive cases of coronavirus in the past 24 hours taking the total tally of Covid-19 infections to 26,530,132, according to the Union health ministry data updated on Sunday (May 23).
In this dire situation, vaccine hesitancy in rural and remote parts of India may turn out to be stumbling block in the country’s efforts to quickly vaccinate its population.