The vaccination drive has begun in India where the government has taken on the herculean task to vaccinate its population. In the era of misinformation and lack of information, “vaccine hesitancy” is a phenomenon that looms around. The Centre needs to take steps to ensure proper communication and reduce the fear, says GYAN PATHAK
he first five days’ experience of the world’s largest vaccination drive in India has come with a high price but is of immense value. “Vaccine hesitancy” has emerged as the biggest roadblock.
At the same time, the operation as a whole presents a case of speeding up its implementation, providing training to a larger number of health workers, greater care at inoculation centres by eliminating all kinds of carelessness from all persons involved, strengthening tracking and accountability framework, enhancing the preparedness for any future eventualities, and to continue with all the precautionary measures for a minimum of four years to avoid the contagion. The situation is evolving fast, and therefore everyone needs to be alert.
It is expected that inoculation of 30 million people in this phase could be completed by August 2021, provided we conduct the drive as planned.
The first phase of the vaccination drive began on January 16 in India where organisations such as WHO, UNICEF, UNDP, WFP, UNFPA took part. This drive is predicted to take a minimum of eight months to complete. It is expected that inoculation of 30 million people in this phase could be completed by August 2021, provided we conduct the drive as planned. The actual number of inoculations is much slower.
WHY THE ‘VACCINE HESITANCY’?
India could vaccinate only 6.31 lakh health workers in the first four days across the country in 11,660 sessions. The central government cites ‘vaccine hesitancy’ as its primary reason.
The centre has urged the states to address “vaccine hesitancy” among some of its priority groups insinuating that the problem lies within the states. The reality is that the government is mainly responsible for this situation. The vaccine is given based on emergency use at a time where further trials need to be conducted.
Further, the do’s and don’ts were reportedly violated by patients and the health professionals implementing the drive in some places, resulting in an adverse effect, though it is at a very low level.
Needless to say, the health professionals and patients must follow the medical protocol and advisories framed by experts and the vaccine producers to reduce the adverse effect to a negligible level.
Any slack decision adds to the “vaccine hesitancy”, and the doctor must be careful about their patients because often the patients are unable to report their symptoms accurately.
Before the vaccination is extended to the larger population, we must eliminate the errors and adverse effects. “Vaccine hesitancy has to extinguish before the pandemic extinguishes,” says Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan. He also said that states have been directed to engage with beneficiaries. However, the government needs to do much more.
If the government acts properly and fast, the “vaccine hesitancy” can be eradicated, since the effects are minimal in number. Only A FEW adverse events were reported that required hospitalisation so far. Minor effects were noticed at 0.18 percent across the country. The requirement of hospitalisation following immunisation was only at 0.002 percent. As far as we know, this is the lowest in the world, and in this sense, both the vaccine Covishield and Covaxin made in India are better than many others in the world. This is precisely why these vaccines are in demand worldwide, where India has pledged to supply the same to other countries.
“The vaccination drive will further be accelerated,” says Dr. V K Paul, who heads the high-level national expert group on vaccination administration.
However, the speed of vaccination is plodding at present, and at this rate, India will need at least four years to vaccinate its entire population. Slow vaccination has its own problems, and therefore the whole operation needs to be accelerated to cover the entire population in the shortest possible time.
By employing greater financial and human resources equitably, the stakeholders must assist the most vulnerable groups to bring them out of the socio-economic fallout.
Communication and advocacy efforts must be enhanced to ensure the dissemination of factual information to stakeholders and communities.
For proper functioning, it requires reliable information. In the era of fake news, communication and advocacy efforts must be enhanced to ensure the dissemination of factual information to stakeholders and communities. Strengthening the tracking and accountability framework will help improve the situation, which will help common people and the healthcare professionals along with other administration officials involved in the operation of infection control, prevention, and psychological support.
WHAT CAN BE DONE?
Awareness-raising programmes are necessary to dispel misgivings among the would-be recipients of the vaccines. The initial experience suggests that people are under the grip of safety concerns.
In the first phase, only 10 million healthcare professionals are to be inoculated. When healthcare professionals and staff are apprehensive about safety, one can imagine people’s safety concerns. It slows down the speed of the inoculation drive.
We as individuals, communities, and government must ensure the three W’s: Wear a mask, Wash hands and Watch distancing.
Though the vaccination drive is underway, the continued rise in infection and deaths, risks of the new strain and other factors including the time taken in inoculating the population, unrelenting vigilance against the pandemic and preventing its spread remains as important as ever.
Tracking cases, cluster investigation, isolation, clinical care, and quarantining to break the transmission chain are still required.
The critical failings in our pandemic alert and response, including the early hiccups in the inoculation drive, highlight India’s need for a new framework. It is more so because the critical elements are found to be slow, cumbersome, and indecisive.
Information, both right and wrong, are travelling faster than our system can formally report on them. The alert and response system should be rescued from the present trappings that primarily analogue in the digital age.
We must change it as soon as possible with proper training and a changed mindset. It should also be kept in mind that viruses travel in minutes and hours rather than days and weeks. Therefore, Speed Up.(IPA Service)