Hyderabad has been one of the cities in Telangana where people have stepped up to vaccinate themselves against COVID-19. However, there existed some pockets in the city where people from marginalised and vulnerable communities were scared of taking the vaccine.
Save the Children (SCI) team came across one such slum in Hyderabad where people because of their orthodox beliefs were not willing to take the vaccine. Some said the local community leaders warned them against the vaccine and claimed it will have adverse health effects. There were others in the community who believed that their natural immunity will protect them from coronavirus.
SCI team turned their focus on this group of people. The mission was to get them vaccinated. With the decline in the COVID curve and schools gradually reopening, vaccination of adult members of the household is crucial to protect children. Not just family members, vaccination of teachers, Anganwadi workers, helpers and their well-being have to be prioritised. It all started in March 2021. Save the Children conducted a household survey and identified all those above the age of 45 who were unvaccinated.
The team then met with the District Medical &Health Officer (DM&HO) who wanted SCI to meet the Director of Health (DH) Telangana as the number of people to be vaccinated was large. The Director of Health then ordered the DM&HO to conduct the drive as per the central government's regulations. The DM&HO connected the SCI with the District Immunisation Officer (DIO) to complete all formalities of vaccinating this population.
The Director of Health also wrote a letter to the Primary Health Centre (PHC) Balapur who directed the deputy DM&HO Saroor Nagar to help in the planning and involve one medical officer, Auxiliary nurse-midwife and ASHA workers. The deputy DM&HO ordered the facilitation of issuing vaccination certificates.
Fighting Vaccine Hesitancy
While the logistical and procedural planning was going on, Save the Children decided to address vaccine hesitancies within the community. With the help of Information, Education, and Communication (IEC) materials in the form of videos in the local language, they were able to counter the myths and misconceptions with scientific facts about the vaccine. SCI also had a detailed discussion with key community representatives and got the eligible members vaccinated to set an example for the larger community.
One of the beneficiaries, Hussian said, "I had heard many stories about the health problems I will face if I got the vaccine but SCI gave me correct information and addressed my fears. I have got the vaccine and now I am trying to mobilise my people to get vaccinated."
Meanwhile, another roadblock came in the form of photo ID cards. Some of them didn't have any government-approved photo ID cards. It was only in June 2021 that the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare issued an SOP allowing vaccination for people without any identity cards.
SCI took care of all logistic support, like providing a separate space for the vaccination drive. After getting their shots, energy drinks were given to the people and space was created for them to stay back for at least half-hour to check for any adverse reactions. The local police were also deputed for crowd control at the vaccination centre.
Poorna Chandrika, assistant manager helming the project, said, "The vaccination drive would have been a far-reaching dream without the support and proactive engagement of the state government, along with the support of community leaders and volunteers in mobilising people."
Training The Team
SCI Hyderabad team also had a detailed discussion with its staff on roles and responsibilities with a plan of action for the 10-day vaccination drive. On-job training was given to specific staff members on entering data into the COWIN portal. Another set of teams was given the task of mobilising community members from different areas and create a day-wise schedule.
Four health volunteers were allotted four different areas to mobilise people for vaccination. A target of vaccinating 250 people per day was set. These volunteers went door-to-door in their respective areas to send people to the vaccination centre. They remained in the area till the daily target was met. Special care was taken to see that husband and wife are given vaccination on two different days. With the help of registration and token system, the crowd was controlled.
SCI had a target of vaccinating 250 per day but a shortage of vaccines has been a challenge to the drive. So far more than 1,200 have been vaccinated.
Sheikh Abudallah, one of the beneficiaries, said, "I am feeling very happy that I did not have to wait in the queue and it was free of cost. All thanks to Save the Children."