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India’s Vaccinators, Punjab: ‘We were never rude, just polite’

As India celebrates its 100 crore doses, Hoshiarpur district has attained 82.4 per cent first-dose coverage of its estimated eligible population — higher than Punjab's average of 75 per cent.

Written by Divya Goyal | Ludhiana |
Updated: October 21, 2021 6:54:47 pm
India Covid vaccination, 100 crore vaccination, Punjab vaccination, India Covid cases, India Covid update, Punjab Covid cases, Indian ExpressDr Seema Garg

Dr Seema Garg (52), District Immunization officer, Hoshiarpur district (Punjab)

When Dr Seema Garg joined as the district immunization officer of Hoshiarpur district on January 1 this year, the first major task she had at hand was the Covid-19 vaccination drive that commenced in the country a fortnight later, on January 16, with healthcare workers as priority in Phase I.

There was massive vaccine hesitancy in the entire Punjab with not many healthcare workers coming forward to get the jab and the problem was aggravated with the stand taken by Accredited Social Health activist (ASHA) workers’ union to not get jabbed till their demands were met.

The district is also a part of Kandi belt comprising villages in sub-mountainous terrain.

Nine months later, as the country celebrates its 100 crore doses, the Hoshiarpur district under the leadership of Dr Garg has attained 82.4 per cent first-dose coverage of its estimated eligible population — higher than Punjab’s average of 75 per cent. Also, 45 per cent of its eligible population is now fully vaccinated. Seeing that Punjab’s overall second dose coverage is just 28.2 per cent, Hoshiarpur stands at number 2, only after Mohali, in administering the highest number of second doses. It is also among the top 5 states in first-dose coverage out of 22 districts.

India Covid vaccination, 100 crore vaccination, Punjab vaccination, India Covid cases, India Covid update, Punjab Covid cases, Indian Express Dr Garg says the biggest challenge was to shun vaccine hesitancy. (Express Photo)

But what stands out for the district is yet another achievement. Of the total 1,405 villages in the district, 348 villages in Hoshiarpur are now fully vaccinated — the highest in the state.

Dr Garg says the biggest challenge was to shun vaccine hesitancy not among the general public, but the department’s own healthcare workers and to convince ASHA workers to get jabbed for their own safety as they move door-to-door.

“I recorded audio messages in Punjabi language addressing ASHA workers and anganwadi workers whose unions told them not to get jabbed as their issues were pending at government-level. My message to them was simple: You are not doing this (to get vaccinated) for the government, but for your own safety. There was no way that we could have gotten rude and forced them to get vaccinated. It had to be a polite request and we kept appealing and circulating those messages in WhatsApp groups till results showed,” she says.

“We also circulated messages via Block Extension Educators, block panchayat officers, sarpanches etc who further sent them to ground level health workers,” she said.

The district also covered ex-servicemen under Guardians of Governance (GOGs), Punjab Police recruitment training centre at Jahan Khelan, district Jail Hoshiarpur where all of its 459 inmates were covered with first dose on single day, staff of Punjab Roadways including drivers, conductors etc, PSPCL staff, BSNL staff, Verka milk plant staff, judicial complex staff – among other government establishments, by organising special vaccination camps.

“We are now also planning to cover paper mills, chemists, restaurants, marriage palaces, sugar mills, rozgar melas, liquor vend contractors and their employees, ration depots and LPG cylinder distributors, income tax and GST staff and e-rickshaw and autorickshaw drivers too,” she says.

Dr Rajesh Bhaskar, nodal officer Covid-19 Punjab, said initially when all 22 districts were struggling in vaccinating healthcare workers, Hoshiarpur had taken the lead and shown better numbers, which only kept increasing with time. “Vaccination in Hoshiarpur has been consistent since the beginning unlike other districts and most of the days, they topped the list with maximum doses per day under Dr Seema Garg’s leadership,” said Dr Bhaskar.

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