Updated: August 13, 2021 8:58:53 am
Recent data on Covid vaccinations in India suggests that vaccine hesitancy may be waning. Over 63 per cent of vaccinations in the past three weeks have taken place in rural areas, where hesitancy has been high. According to the latest data, vaccinations in rural India now average 29.66 lakh doses daily, up from an average of 17.81 lakh doses between May 1 and June 23. This turnaround is enormously heartening. About 65 per cent of India lives in villages, and this should help the government address the gaps and lags in Covid containment.
Vaccine hesitancy has crippled various government programmes even before the Covid outbreak, including for polio elimination. It has been more prevalent in rural areas for a variety of reasons, including the dearth of health education. In the case of Covid-19, the focus was initially on urban areas, which saw maximum vaccination numbers in the early days of the rollout. Rural India called for a nuanced strategy that involved engagement with, and participation of, multiple stakeholders and influencers. Since late June, with information about supply available in advance, district administrations have undertaken calibrated campaigns to reach out to the public. The next challenge for the government will be two-fold. First, it needs to speedily increase the coverage, as only 43 per cent of the estimated adult population has received the first dose. Second, the government needs to increase the percentage of fully vaccinated adults, which is just over 12 per cent.
Even as vaccination is voluntary, it is critical to incentivise beneficiaries. In that direction, the Maharashtra government’s decision to only allow fully vaccinated people to travel in Mumbai local trains, will ensure more people come forward to get vaccinated. Local governments should frame similar district and block-level specific models. The gender disparity in Covid vaccinations also needs to be addressed — except in a few states like Kerala, men dominate the vaccinated population. A potential third wave may target hitherto unaffected sections of the population, and it is important to spread the net wider, and cover areas with limited health infrastructure and those more prone to vaccine hesitancy.
This editorial first appeared in the print edition on August 13, 2021 under the title ‘Spreading the net’.
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