Updated: July 16, 2021 1:28:09 pm
After Covid-19 vaccination opened for all above 18 years of age in the state on June 4, several villages in south Gujarat, including five tribal villages in Navsari and one in Valsad, are showing the way as they have achieved near 100 per cent first dose coverage. The key driver has been the youth, as well as a fear of a possible third wave, officials said.
In Untdi village in Valsad taluka of Valsad district, majority of the people (total population of 2,503) are engaged in seafaring activities. The primary health centre at Dharasana, barely two kilometres away from the village, served as the key vaccination site. Taluka health officer Dr Kamal Chaudhary says that when the vaccination drive started, there was an initial hesitation amongst the population, with their main concern being that of serious adverse effects following immunisation.
“We were initially finding it difficult as to how to convince people that there won’t be any serious adverse effects, but only the usual side effects of fever, body pain etc. It was especially difficult to convince the elderly. Being a coastal area, most of the population are engaged in work with shipping companies, and the companies require vaccination proof. So when the vaccination for the 18-plus population started, we saw an encouraging uptake in this 18-44 years group.”
“We soon observed that others in their social circles, including elderly family members and neighbours, that is, those aged above 45 years, were queuing up for the vaccine. A prime reason was the elderly saw that those taking the vaccine are not seeing any serious adverse effect post-vaccination. Simultaneously, our health teams, taluka-level teams, panchayat members and other local leaders, were also assisting in continuous counseling of those who were not hesitant but were sitting on the fence,” says Chaudhary.
Supernumerary assistant collector Akancha Siksha, a 2020-batch IAS, was also given charge of the village, said
district development officer of Valsad Manish Gurwani. Siksha, who accompanied the taluka-level and health teams in door-to-door counseling of households, says that the exercise revealed that while the youths were enthusiastic, there was relatively less enthusiasm for the vaccine usually among those aged above 30 years and
especially among women.
“One reason for the hesitancy among the elderly with comorbidities are that they were not sure if the vaccine would affect them more severely owing to their comorbid conditions. We provide them with real-life examples of people with comorbidities who had no adverse effect following immunisation,” adds Dr Chaudhary.
While the village was left largely untouched during the first wave, the second wave saw nearly 20 or so infected and at least four deaths, according to district officials.
Of 1,669 people eligible for the vaccine in this village, 1,646 people have been administered the first dose. Chaudhary says that before the vaccine shortage that led to the state-wide suspension of the inoculation drive from July 7 to 9, all but 267 people were covered with the first dose, and when vaccination resumed on July 10, in a span of two days, the remaining population was covered.
Gurwani says the remaining 20-odd persons who are yet to take the first dose are those who had contracted the infection and are yet to complete their two-month gap post-infection.
The broader strategy for Valsad district has been two-pronged -to target villages where there are no large-scale hesitancy and second, to tackle those villages with a different approach where vaccine hesitancy exists — as Gurwani explains.
Kakwadi village is the next target, where of the 3,123 vaccine-eligible population, 2,974 have received the first dose.
With near 99 percent coverage in Untdi, district officials said that they now plan to field it as a model to
“inspire others in remaining villages”.
Apart from Untdi village in Valsad taluka of the district, three other villages – Ghimsa in Umargam Taluka, Chhiri and Kocharva villages in Vapi Taluka – have vaccinated over 90 per cent of their eligible population, according to Valsad District health officer Anil Patel.
Vaccine hesitancy is being seen among the population of two tribal-majority talukas in Valsad district — Dharampur and Kaprada, with a total of 237 villages. “We have asked our taluka development officers here to take the assistance of talatis, sarpanches and local leaders and camp in the villages to change the mentality.”
In Navsari, five tribal villages have covered nearly 99 per cent vaccine-eligible population and as the district development officer Arpit Sagar said, the strategy has been to target one village per taluka.
These villages include Patapor village in Navsari taluka, Barolia village in Chikhli taluka, Kelia village in Vansda taluka, Mohanpur village in Gandevi taluka and Bhutsar village in Jalalpore taluka. Only Khergam taluka remains to see a village nearly 100 percent covered with the first dose. The five villages combined have administered 4,346 first doses, ranging from 450 doses in Paratpor village, 1,459 doses in Barolia, 1,104 doses in Kelia, 868 doses in Mohanpur and 465 doses in Bhutsad.
Sagar explains, “Once we cover one village per taluka, the IEC becomes easier to convince people to take the vaccine. We have also been trying to convince people by telling them that what happened in the second wave, can happen in a possible third wave, if they do not get vaccinated. Being tribal dominated villages, the population at large believes in bhagat bhuvas (quacks) and have more faith in traditional methods. So we are working with an aim to convince the bhagat bhuvas, who in turn can then convince the villagers. If bhagat bhuvas are convinced, it becomes easier for us to reach out. In some villages, the villagers listen to sarpanches, in some others, they listen to bhagat bhuvas. We are approaching leaders accordingly, including religious and political leaders, as well as NGOs.”
Apart from the targeted approach, Sagar also adds that when the vaccination opened for those above 60 years of age as well as subsequent opening for those above 45 years of age, the acceptance remained poor. However, with an eager younger population, among whom vaccine acceptance is better, the elderly too are now turning up.
(With inputs from Kamal Saiyed in Surat)
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