CHENNAI: A few months ago, B Vengadathiri, a social work student walked into a house at Kannagi Nagar and appealed to a woman there to get inoculated against Covid at the earliest.
“Will you come and take care of my children when I die after taking the shot,” the woman fumed.
Other fever surveillance staff also faced similar encounters at most houses in Kannagi Nagar, one of the first and largest resettlement sites in the city.
Vengadathiri is among hundreds of Chennai Corporation’s field staff, who have been battling it out on the ground to allay public’s fears of the vaccine.
During the initial days, people would even chase them away.
“Unverified reports and allegations of deaths due to vaccination frightened them. When we tell them that the worst side effect of the vaccine was fever, they would say that they can’t miss out on daily wages owing to fever or body pain,” Vengadathiri says. The field staff persisted and kept visiting the site.
Overnight, nothing changed. Local politicians, bank managers, members of self-help groups and others found their way into WhatsApp groups of the residents and disseminated awareness messages.
Rallies and dance shows were organised. Field staff prepared a list of households that could be convinced with comparatively less effort.
“When some families took the shot, their neighbours too began to open up to the idea,” says S Gnanaprakasam, the sanitary inspector of the area, who along with the zonal health officer, coordinated the efforts.
Following eight months of consistent efforts, today nearly half of Kannagi Nagar’s adult population (17,000 out of 38,000) is inoculated.
As much as 90 per cent of hypertensive patients and 77 per cent of diabetes patients have received the shot.
Further, 76 per cent of those above 45 years have been vaccinated.
“The residents see our faces every day and so they have grown to trust us. They know me by name, where I come from, whether I’ve had lunch or not. They believe what we tell them is for their own good,” Vengadathiri adds.
Surya P, an auto driver from Kannagi Nagar, says they no longer have any doubts concerning the vaccine.
“Initially, some celebrity deaths were attributed to the vaccine, and some media reports raised concerns. Now, we know that the vaccine is safe and taking it is vital to prevent a third wave,” he adds.