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Sunday, June 20, 2021

Brooms, threats, rumours: Bihar’s Tika Express runs into hurdles

Till June 9, just over 60 lakh people out of the estimated 3.19 crore (roughly 18%) in the 45-age group had been vaccinated in the state. The total number of those vaccinated in the state stands at 1.14 crore.

Written by Santosh Singh | Patna |
Updated: June 12, 2021 5:22:43 pm
Between April 1 and April 28, Patna recorded 221 out of the 815 Covid deaths in the state, according to Bihar government records. Overall, 2,391 people have died of Covid in the state. (Representational Photo)

The ‘Tika Express’ drive launched by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar on June 3 is making slower progress than the Bihar government perhaps expected. While the initiative is meant to speed up vaccination in the state among the 45-plus age group, officials are spending a lot of their time trying to convince villagers to take the shots.

Often, they are being forced to return without managing to vaccinate anyone despite putting in hours at a spot, Health Department officials said.

Under the exercise, 839 vehicles — 21 of which were launched by the CM — have spread out across the state, with health officials, auxiliary nurse midwives, ASHA and anganwadi workers, UNICEF and CareIndia activists on board, along with local influencers such as mukhiya, sarpanch, PDS dealers, imams and priests.

Till June 9, just over 60 lakh people out of the estimated 3.19 crore (roughly 18%) in the 45-age group had been vaccinated in the state. The total number of those vaccinated in the state stands at 1.14 crore.

Siddharth Singh of CareIndia, who spent a week in the tribal and Scheduled Caste villages of Laxmipur and Gidhaur blocks, says their experience was “mixed”. In February, The Indian Express had reported fudging of Covid testing data in these two blocks of Jamui district.

Singh says that while villagers came forward willingly at Ratanpur in Gidhaur, the Manjhi and Yadav settlements in Tari Paharpur village of the block showed huge resistance. “An elderly woman told us, ‘Pehle apan maiya-bahiniya ke tika dilau (First get your mothers and sisters vaccinated)’,” Singh says, adding that many villagers believe “women become sterile after vaccination”.

In a Laxmipur village, the health team was chased away with a broom. At another place, the wife of a man standing in queue to get vaccinated took him away, Singh recalls.

Badki Devi of Manjhi Tola near Purnadih village of Laxmipur says the timing of the vaccination drive makes them suspicious. “When we are actually ill, none of these health workers turns up to give us medicines. Now that we are fine, they have come to inject us,” Devi says, adding, “We will die a natural death or from a disaster, but not from the coronavirus.”

Balkishore Tudu, a PDS dealer in Purnadih panchayat, says he took the shot himself in the hope that it would convince villagers that the vaccine was safe. “This area has a population of about 2,000 people. Even though I have taken the jab, it is very difficult to convince people. But as more and more people take vaccines, they will come forward.”

Recently, a Tika Express team had to leave Dhaniyatika village after failing to convince anyone. Health officials said they fielded an elderly villager to try to persuade them. But a woman threatened, “We will all assemble on the rooftop if a vaccination team comes.”

Laxmipur Medical Officer Dr D K Dhusia said they had been able to vaccinate about 13,000 people in the 45-plus age group against a target of 20,000 (60%). “There are rumours about deaths and paralysis due to vaccines. Even people who have taken the first dose are not coming forward for the second shot.”

Laxmipur Block Development Officer Atul Prasad also said health teams are up against rumours and superstition. They have decided to vaccinate the important and influential people of a village first, he said. “These people will create a vaccination chain.”

Health Minister Mangal Pandey is also hopeful. The fact that about 11 lakh doses had been administered since the Tika Express was launched 10 days ago showed that despite problems the drive was working well, he said.

Meanwhile, following a review meeting of the health department, the CM said the government had set a target of vaccinating about 6 crore people in the next six months.

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