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Tuesday, May 11, 2021

ASHA workers, campaigns on WhatsApp help Rajasthan fix vaccine story

A couple of months ago, when ASHA worker Vidya Devi visited homes in Rajasthan’s Tonk district to urge families to get vaccinated against the coronavirus, she would be asked whether the shot might harm the recipient instead.

Written by Deep Mukherjee | Jaipur |
Updated: April 12, 2021 7:40:48 am
It is to the tireless groundwork done by Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHA) like Vidya that Rajasthan owes, in large part, its spectacular turnaround in vaccination coverage – going from a slow, patchy effort to becoming the country's second best performing state in inoculations. (Representational)

A couple of months ago, when ASHA worker Vidya Devi visited homes in Rajasthan’s Tonk district to urge families to get vaccinated against the coronavirus, she would be asked whether the shot might harm the recipient instead.

“Most people were scared that the vaccine would kill them; some believed it would give them Covid-19,” Vidya said. The 47-year-old resident of Palri village in Tonk district would assure them that she had been vaccinated herself, and was doing fine.

It is to the tireless groundwork done by Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHA) like Vidya that Rajasthan owes, in large part, its spectacular turnaround in vaccination coverage – going from a slow, patchy effort to becoming the country’s second best performing state in inoculations.

On January 20, four days after India started vaccinating healthcare and frontline workers, Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot tweeted about the lack of enthusiasm for the shot. The state had started off badly – on day 1, it could administer the vaccine to 73 per cent of targeted recipients, and over the next two days, 68 per cent and 54 per cent.

Gehlot issued an appeal to health workers to come forward, both to receive the vaccine, and to popularise the message of its critical benefit. On February 17, two days after the second dose began to be administered, 7.44 lakh people – 3.9 lakh health workers and 3.52 lakh frontline workers – had got their first shot, and over 15,000 had got the second dose, data from the state health department show.

Things improved steadily thereafter – and as of Sunday, according to data from the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Rajasthan had vaccinated 84,50,218 people with the first dose and 11,15,090 with the second dose – trailing, with a total 95.65 lakh administered doses, only Maharashtra (99.23 lakh administered doses).

On April 6, 7, 8, and 9, Rajasthan administered 4,84,288, 5,81,299, 4,65,600, and 4,21,359 shots of the vaccine respectively, including both first and second doses.

Senior officials from the Health Department said that after the initial low turnout, a massive drive was launched to spread awareness about the vaccination process, and people were urged to come forward for the shot.

“The biggest challenge for us initially was the apprehension among people… So we decided to show them examples. Videos of prominent people including doctors, senior bureaucrats, and public representatives getting vaccinated were shared through social media and other mediums to convince people that it was perfectly safe to get vaccinated,” Dr K K Sharma, Director (Public Health), said.

Video conferences were held with target groups including ASHA and Anganwadi workers, and directions were issued to Chief Medical and Health Officers (CMHOs) in every district to update vaccination figures daily, and to seek increased participation of people, Dr Sharma added.

Raghuraj Singh, Project Director (Immunisation) said that a significant role in achieving the inoculation target had been played by the state’s 70,000-plus Swasthya Mitras – both male and female villager volunteers in the government’s flagship health scheme, Nirogi Rajasthan.

“The vaccination drive has been facilitated by over 70-80 thousand health workers who went to remote villages and convinced people to take the shot. We also involved public representatives such as the ward panch, MLAs, MPs, and other prominent personalities,” Singh said.

Vaccination is now taking place in nearly 3,000 government facilities that have been designated Covid Vaccination Centres (CVCs), and 192 private hospitals across the state. The CVCs include primary health centres (PHCs), community health centres (CHCs), and subcentres, each serving between 5,000 and 1 lakh people.

“At the present rate, we hope to vaccinate around 2.09 crore people of age 45 and older by the end of April,” Singh said.

Chief Minister Gehlot wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday, saying the state’s current stock of vaccines would run out in the next two days, and asked for at least another 30 lakh doses immediately so that the momentum in vaccinations could be maintained.

The numbers of daily vaccinations have come down over the weekend, with only 2,96,162 and 1,11,377 doses having been administered on Saturday and Sunday respectively.

“We have received 4,00,000 vaccine doses today from the Centre and at present have a stock of around 5.5 lakh doses, enough to last for two days,” Singh told The Indian Express on Sunday. “Rajasthan is in second place in the country in terms of vaccination but due to the vaccine shortage the figures have come down in the past two days. If there wasn’t this shortage, we would have completed 1 crore doses by now,” Singh said.

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