In Assams District Where The Vaccination Rate Is The Lowest, Myth And Misinformation Are Misleading Villagers

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The Logical Indian Crew

In Assam's District Where The Vaccination Rate Is The Lowest, Myth And Misinformation Are Misleading Villagers

Only 3.2 doses per hundred people have been administered at the impoverished and neglected South Salmara-Mankacham district.

It is no secret that the vaccination drive in India is progressing slowly. But in Assam's South Salmara-Mankachar, things are especially bad.

It is one of the poorest districts in the state and has the lowest vaccination rate in the country. Despite having an abundant availability of slots, till June 2 as per data recorded on the CoWIN portal, the district administered only 3.2 doses per hundred people. This is only a fifth of the national average of 15.72 doses.

The dreadful state of the vaccination in South Salmara-Mankachar, as per the data recorded, clearly reflects that the problem with vaccines is not related to either shortage or supply. Rather, it can be attributed to vaccine hesitancy.

According to a report by Scroll, people have been reluctant to get the vaccine ever since a WhatsApp video spreading misinformation about post-vaccination calamities surfaced across the country. In the video, a Nobel prize-winning French virologist called Luc Montagnier can apparently be heard saying the people who get inoculated will die within two years of their vaccination.

The poor rate of inoculation, however, comes even after the Assam police issued a statement on social media clearly stating that the claims made in the video are false. Apart from this, the video was also reviewed by multiple fact-checking organisations, which later ruled out a statement asserting that the claim that is associated with Montagnier in the video is not made by him, despite Montagnier having an openly anti-vaccination stance.

In addition to the video, certain events in the district further acted as a catalyst in strengthening the public's suspicions about the vaccines. Incidentally, a few people in the district died after taking the vaccine. However, according to the district immunisation officer Dr Sirajul IslamIslam, these deaths were not related to the vaccination. He clarified that the deceased had underlying conditions of comorbidities, but the incidental sequence of events just made the people fall prey to the anti-vaccination propaganda on social media.

This, however, had little to no impact on the residents of the district as the numbers for vaccination continue to be critically low. Dr Islam stated that the debunking of myths and misinformation has shown no results in the district's inoculation rate. He also stated that the administration attempted everything and took all sorts of measures to encourage the public to get the jab but to no avail. He stated that from coercion to threat, emotional appeal to logical reasoning, nothing has successfully convince the people to get the shot.

"We have organised marathon awareness campaigns. We have threatened shopkeepers that we will not let you open if you don't get vaccinated. But no, nothing works," said Islam. "My head has just stopped working, I just don't know what to do anymore," he added.

Islam mentioned that the district has ample slots available. "There have been days when we have opened up to 15 sites with a capacity of 100 doses each. But in terms of vaccinations, we have never reached a total of even 400. Usually, it's around 165 to 215," he added.

To fix the situation, the desperate district administration took to organising awareness campaigns and meeting at the panchayat level. And while the campaign has recorded large numbers of people coming and attending the meetings, it has not exactly translated into people showing up at vaccination centres to get jabbed.

"Just the other day, we organised an awareness meeting in Mankachar," said Saiful Islam, the health services director. "There was a big gathering, but the next day three people turned up at the vaccination site where we had readied a hundred doses."

As a result of the fewer numbers, Islam mentioned that even the three people willing to get jabbed had to be turned down. "We cannot open a vial for three people. We need a minimum of ten people," he added.

Even the efforts of local politicians have been fruitless in this regard. Aminul Islam, the local All India United Democratic Front legislator said that "I go, tell people to get vaccinated, they listen, but they don't finally get vaccinated."

The matter was even addressed by the state government. The state authorities send in teams to appeal to people in order to try and tackle the situation but struggled to make any substantial progress.

Munindra Nath Ngatey, the state nodal officer for COVID vaccination said that about 95 per cent of people in the district are Muslims. This demographical detail could be a factor for the low vaccination rate according to the official. He claimed that a lot of people stated Ramzan fasts as their reason for not getting vaccinated. However, Ramzan was from April 13 to May 12 this year, and the vaccination numbers showed no increase even after the festival ended.

However, barring South Salmara-Mankachar, the other districts in the state with the lowest vaccination rates are overwhelmingly Hindu. The district administration also stated that they urged Imams in mosques to appeal to people to get vaccinated during their daily prayers.

Another problem pointed out by District Commissioner Hivare Nisarg Gautam is the vastness of distribution of the people in remote locations across the district. "People are scattered, it's an almost entirely rural district," he said. "If mobile vaccination is permitted, maybe something can be achieved," he added.

The regions in this district have some of the lowest literacy levels, along with a nearly non-existent healthcare infrastructure. "Awareness programmes at the panchayat level catering to the uneducated population began very late," said Nazmul Arefin, the president of the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) district committee.

According to the latest National Family Health Survey, the routine immunisation rates in the district are also significantly lower than the state average.

With nearly 10 per cent of the health workers of the district yet to take even the first dose, the district immunisation officer Sirajul Islam said that "I have prepared a strict order for our healthcare workers, that they, along with their family members, should come forward, otherwise they will have to face departmental action."

Also Read: COVID-19 Relief: Assam Govt Announces Financial Assistance For Orphaned Children

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Writer : Anisha Jain
Editor : Madhusree Goswami
Creatives : Anisha Jain

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