Kerala administration has often been hailed for its outstanding performance in handling health crises. In July 2020, the World Health Organisation complimented the state for how it handled the onslaught of cases in the first wave.
The state government's prompt response could be attributed to its previous experiences of handling crises and beforehand investments in emergency preparedness, especially seen previously during the floods in 2018 and the outbreak of NIPAH a year later. The state was the first in the country to have a case of COVID-19 in a student who had returned from Wuhan in January 2020.
Over the years, the state has made gradual progress in investing in its health infrastructure. The leadership had set up two hospitals in each district dedicated to COVID-19 to manage the numbers while they were still less. However, the challenges emerged infront of those districts with a significant tribal population, for instance, in Wayanad.
First and foremost, they were unaware of the virus itself and, therefore, did not understand the requirement of strictly following the safety protocols. Secondly, when the vaccines were available, people were hesitant to come forward to get injected. Thus, the responsibility of managing the number of cases and mass-vaccinating people lied on the shoulders of the district administration.
Wayanad's Exemplary Execution During COVID
Under such circumstances, the District Collector of Wayanad, IAS officer Adeela Abdullah took up the challenge. Eventually, under her leadership, Wayanad became the first district to vaccinate its entire population with the first COVID vaccine dose and is now eyeing to reach the status of a fully vaccinated district.
"An essential step that the administration took was to reach out to people. The district had begun to vaccinate in February, making them one of the earliest starters. In a jurisdiction where 20 per cent of the population was that of tribals, and half of them being primitive tribals, the main challenge they identified was that nobody would come forward to get the vaccine if the official authorities do not reach out," IAS officer Adeela told The Logical Indian.
Wayanad is the only district in Kerala categorised as an 'aspirational district' under the Government of India. These districts are encouraged to catch up with the best district in the state and, in the next stage, compete with other districts across the country.
"Since the tribal people are unaccustomed to the urban way of working, the administration launched 'Mission March'. They sent vehicles to tribal colonies to bring people to the vaccination centres. Within the marginalised communities, the fear of injections is rampant," she added further taking about her efforts.
Therefore, the administration made it a point to vaccinate many people from the same locality to feel comfortable getting the dose. Several people did not know the means to register themselves and did not have documentation to prove their identity; therefore, the health workers gave their phone numbers to register vaccine-slot.
Serosurvey Showed A Low Positivity Rate
According to a serosurvey, the district had a low positivity rate of about nine people out of 100. In contrast, the national average was constantly on the rise, and the state positivity rate was well beyond 15 per cent.
"Wayanad is one of the aspirational cities of India; that is, it is not yet fully developed to handle a health crisis of the magnitude of COVID-19. There were just two ways to reach herd immunity. One was if people had contracted the virus at a mass scale and recovered or if people were vaccinated. The administration chose the latter and directed all its efforts to vaccinate as many people as possible. The vaccination drive was planned, and the centres were set up only when there were many vaccines for the people," IAS officer Adeela told The Logical Indian.
The administration brought into the foreground several local self-government institutions that would make arrangements for the drive. Asha workers, volunteers, and health workers were all working single-mindedly towards one objective, vaccination! Supposedly, if only doctors were to vaccinate the entire population. In that case, only 8000 vaccines could be administered in a day, whereas with ASHA workers, and self-government institutions, up to 25000 people could be vaccinated in a day.
After 'Mission March' was over and had completed its objective, some people were left unvaccinated. These were the ones who had contracted the virus and were under home isolation or migrant workers who were missed out earlier. The Wayanad Collector shared further that to achieve complete vaccination, the district administration launched the 'Mop-Up Mission' in May, which covered all the people who had previously missed the vaccines.
All Hands Worked Together To Ensure Vaccination For All In Kerala
In this entire execution of ensuring 100 per cent vaccination in the state, an NGO named 'Doctors For You' and several doctors from private hospitals came forward to help. The administration targeted six to seven panchayats, which would hold an awareness drive for the vaccines after vaccinating their people.
"As the word reached more and more people, the results started showing in. Wayanad is one of the most preferred places by tourists. Therefore, the administration had to vaccinate the locals before making the place available for the tourists. Much to their surprise, after the first wave subsided, the district saw the highest number of tourists," shares the Wayand collector with The Logical Indian.
Due to inter-state travel barriers, it was easy to check the number of tourists entering the state and district borders. The provision of e-pass and the requirement of a negative RT-PCR enabled the administration to monitor the movement of tourists. From Mission March to a mop-up mission in May, the district has come a long way. The entire eligible population in the district has been vaccinated. The endeavour is also attracting people from neighbouring districts who are coming in to get the vaccine jab.
Currently, Collector Abdullah said that most 35 per cent of the population had been administered with the second dose. When asked about her next endeavour, the Collector mentioned that the main objective is to fully vaccinate the entire district population.
During the Onam and Dassera festivals, the entire state of Kerala is in a mood to celebrate. Therefore, before we let down our guards during this celebration, we must be immune enough against the virus. She also mentioned that fully vaccinating the district population does not mean ignoring the national safety guidelines at any cost.