Vaccine hesitancy in rural India: a first look

Helpdesk in Akole rural hospital, district Ahmednagar. Image – courtesy SATHI, Pune, April 2021

How bad is the problem of vaccine hesitancy in rural India? Sonal Baxi has been speaking to AID on behalf of Bhasha Research and Publication Centre in Vadodara, Gujarat. We hear a story that has been repeated elsewhere: among the Adivasi communities of Chota Udepur, there is an atmosphere of fear and helplessness. This is also true in the Kothamba and Khanpur areas, where Bhasha works with Nat and Madri communities. Folks are wary of going to government hospitals, which are anyway stretched to capacity, unable to keep up.

In an atmosphere where the public health system is completely unable to cope, vaccine hesitancy becomes an increasingly serious problem. Richa Singh from Sangtin Kisan Mazdoor Sangathan also referred to this, mentioning that people are even more scared of vaccines than of COVID.

A large part of the problem is that there is very little clear information about vaccines. Misinformation is rampant, and so people do not know what to believe. Malini is the founder of Chaithanya Shravanthi, which works to increase tribal engagement in public affairs in Minumuluru, Andhra Pradesh. She reiterates that one of the most urgent needs on the ground is to circulate relevant awareness material which addresses vaccine hesitancy.

What can AID do to support partners who are looking for solutions on this front? Harinesh Pandya of Janpath, Gujarat tells us that in rural areas, although vaccination is picking up pace but there is still a lot of vaccine hesitancy. Janpath is involved in a lot of awareness work. They had 30-35 of their young volunteers vaccinated and are getting them to spread the word that vaccination is helpful.

Women’s Initiatives conducts an awareness session about COVID protocols and vaccines. From Chittoor Dist., Andhra Pradesh (May 2021)

Focussed awareness programs are an effective way to get the message across. This is being implemented by several partners including SATHI, via helpdesks, and SOCHARA, via a specially set up call centre. Meera Raghavendra of Women’s Initiatives, Chittoor District, Andhra Pradesh, shares another example. As part of their work, volunteers provide information about COVID mutations and its virulence, dispelling myths surrounding COVID vaccines. They explain how it spreads through aerosolized particles, even when people are just talking or standing close together. 

In subsequent posts we will address these solutions in more detail. Follow this important work and support AID’s efforts to get rural India vaccinated!

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