BENGALURU: While the state government claims that it is racing to vaccinate as many people as possible, health workers on the ground and experts say COVID-19 immunisation among minorities is poor, and that the government should address it to ensure that there are no health inequities.
A senior BBMP official said that in many wards people do not turn up for the vaccine. "We have been trying to convince people, but they do not agree to get the shot. Awareness programmes must be held in these wards. It's not just in the city, this has been seen across the state," the official said.
Dr Giridhara R Babu, senior epidemiologist and public health expert, said on Twitter, "Earlier vaccination programs had clearly defined social mobilisation components. They used to engage with all religious leaders for the awareness programs. Not engaging with the minorities in a culturally sensitive and appropriate manner will worsen the health inequities."
Religious leaders say that they have heard people from their communities refuse the vaccine, but point out that it is mostly due to fears about the side-effects and fake news which has spread like wild fire, which the government has done nothing to address.
Ameen e Mudassar, educationist and COVID warrior who set up a helpline for COVID-19 patients, said, "Many from minority communities are getting vaccinated, but yes, the numbers are not big. Fake news on social media about side-effects of vaccination has made many wait and watch." He said that religious leaders are encouraging people to get vaccinated.
"The numbers are expected to increase from April 1 as the age limit will be above 45 years," he said. However, religious leaders said that the government should do more to address the fears and dispel the myths that induced hesitancy.
"The state government, which sent out so many circulars asking us not to gather crowd during festivals, can also send out a circular instructing us to tell people to go and take the vaccine," said Maulana Maqsood Imran Rashadi, Khateeb O Imam, Jama Masjid.
He said that the health department or the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike should rope in religious leaders for awareness drives. "It really matters. We dispelled the fear about data not given by Covaxin manufacturers and gave clarifications about it once data was released. Then started the fake news about people dying after vaccination. We have been doing our best to dispel people's fears, but won’t it make sense for the government to involve us to campaign for the vaccination drives? Why isn’t this being done?" he asked.
Maqsood Imran Rashadi asked. However, public health doctor Dr Sylvia Karpagam, said, "Since the pandemic started, minorities have been targeted and vilified by the media, elected representatives and even the health system. This has had a serious impact on the lives, livelihoods and mental health of the community. It has led to serious erosion of trust. Attempts have to be made by all these groups - elected representatives, media and the health system to rebuild trust."