Misinformation, Rumours Behind COVID Vaccine Hesitancy in Kashmir
Lack of trust in India-made vaccines and misinformation about them is fuelling hesitancy in the Valley.
India’s vaccination drive against the coronavirus began in January, and was kicked off in Jammu and Kashmir two weeks later. Six months later, while most people have been partially vaccinated or are ready to be vaccinated, there are some who refuse to get any jabs at all in the Union territory. From rumours to political reasons, even waiting for foreign vaccines, I was given various reasons for vaccine hesitancy in the Valley.
As per government data, 41,79,037 doses were administered in Jammu and Kashmir till 25 June. In the past, there have been reports of diminishing vaccine stock, but lately, a contrary trend is visible – vaccination teams have been beaten and attacked in many places in Kashmir.
I spoke to several people to get a sense of the problem. Sofi Rustum, an Environmental Science postgraduate, said that lack of trust in the government is one of the major reasons behind people avoiding the vaccine. While talking about the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), she said:
“Majority of people in the party holding prime positions suggest unscientific ways for COVID care like cow dung, cow urine, etc.”
Some others highlighted lack of confidence in India-made vaccines.
“I am not getting vaccinated because it is being manufactured in India. It is difficult to believe that a quality-check would’ve been carried out here... I will get vaccinated once Pfizer and Sputnik are available.”Shazia Nazir
Sheikh Adnan, a techie-turned-businessman said that he was staying away from the vaccine as it caused ‘infertility’ and ‘mental health problems’.
Misinformation Over Medical Evidence
Despite these rumours, doctors and the healthcare staff have been insisting people to receive their jabs and are also trying to counter misinformation with scientific expertise. Doctors at the Old Baramulla Hospital told me that people are avoiding vaccines mainly due to ignorance.
Dr Sanober Bashir, a doctor at the hospital, said that people are reluctant to take the vaccine because they’ve read some social media posts. She referred to videos circulated online that claimed vaccines cause infertility. This kind of misinformation is responsible for having an impact on people's minds, she said, adding:
“Initially, there were concerns whether the vaccines are Halal or not, but now the Muftis (religious scholars) have permitted the usage of the vaccines as well.”
She further added that people were reading and consuming news about vaccines online and the spread of such information has led to anxiety among the masses.
Dr Wasim Qadir, another doctor at the Old Hospital Baramulla echoed the sentiment.
“People who don’t know much about the virus and the vaccines have become experts on the same.”Dr Wasim Qadir
On being asked whether the reluctance could have political reasons, he said that it might also be a reason.
Dar Ajaz, a medic at the famous Sher-i-Kashmir Medical Institute (SKIMS), said that many people in his knowledge have gotten vaccinated and most are willingly receiving the jabs. “I suggest people should get vaccinated, and shouldn’t heed to rumours,” Ajaz said.
Doctors in the region have made multiple appeals for vaccinations and have asked people to disregard rumours and misinformation.
(The author is an independent journalist based in Kashmir. All 'My Report' branded stories are submitted by citizen journalists to The Quint. Though The Quint inquires into the claims/allegations from all parties before publishing, the report and the views expressed above are the citizen journalist's own. The Quint neither endorses, nor is responsible for the same.)
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