GUWAHATI: The authorities in East Kameng district of Arunachal Pradesh have roped in religious leaders, among others, to ward off beliefs that were hampering the Covid-19 vaccination programme.
When it dawned on them that the low rate of vaccination was due to some religious beliefs and social media rumours, they brainstormed and hit upon the idea of utilising the services of religious and NGO leaders, besides influencers. It is paying rich dividends as nearly 50% of the people, aged above 45 years, have been vaccinated.
Braving rains and landslides, the health workers are reaching the houses of villagers, up to the China border, on foot to make the programme a success. Given the difficult terrain in the Himalayan state, sometimes it takes a day for them to reach a village.
District Medical Officer, Dr Kaya Lapung said the locals get easily influenced by superstitious beliefs and rumours.
"When we face a situation where people refuse to get jabbed on the grounds that they have the blessings of God and God will protect them, we quote from the holy books. We say that as long as one is there in the universe, one should follow its rules," Lapung said.
He explains to them how rumours about the vaccines are being circulated and tries to convince them by saying that he is a senior doctor who wants to protect them against the virus.
"That way, we try to gain their confidence. We involve religious, NGO and community leaders to convince them," Lapung said.
Ashok Tajo, who is the Nodal Officer (Vaccination), said in one village, he was confronted with an old man who was carrying a spear and not allowing anyone to enter his compound.
"He was saying why we brought corona into his compound. It took us an hour to convince him," Tajo said.
He said the challenges were miscommunication and misinformation, spread through social media. He said some villagers would argue on the need of vaccination.
"They will say since everyone will be dying in two years due to corona why they should take the vaccine shots. Some will say the vaccines will make them impotent. Some others will say fasting and prayers are enough to keep the virus at bay. So, 50 per cent of our time is spent on convincing people," Tajo said.
The district has some 400 villages under 236 gram panchayats and the health officials are covering each one of them.
District Immunisation Officer, Dr Dirang Pizi said there was not a single village that the health officials have not been to despite road blockade caused by rains or landslides. “We have gone up to the China border and immunized people,” he said.
To promote vaccination, the district administration has decided to incentivise ASHA workers. They visit houses in the remote parts of the district and motivate people to get vaccinated.
“Each ASHA worker will get Rs 100 when somebody has taken both doses. We have announced The Highest Mobiliser, The Second Highest Mobiliser and The Most Dedicated ASHA Worker awards,” District Magistrate, Pravimal Abhishek Polumatla said.