‘Impotency, Death’: Rumours Fuel Vaccine Hesitancy in Chhattisgarh
Data shows that only 15.3 percent of the people who took their first dose of the vaccine have taken the second one.
“There is no need for vaccination, the things will continue as they are. Anyway, vaccination is harmful. It will lead to impotency or infertility, and that is the risk I am not going to take. I also fail to understand, why is there so much fuss over this? Cold and cough are common things, and we will overcome it like always,” said Bharat Patel, resident of Sonpuri village of Korba district in Chhattisgarh.
Maikulal Yadav who lives near SECL Gevra mines, 25 km from Korba district headquarters, said that he would “die but not take the second dose” of the vaccine.
“I got my first dose on 18 April and two days later I was in the hospital suffering from a high fever. They said it will cool off in a day or two, but I suffered for nearly two weeks. The government advised taking paracetamol for fever post-vaccination, but for how many days? If I take paracetamol for 15 days, will it not affect my other organs and immunity?” Yadav said.
Patel and Yadav are among the scores of people in Chhattisgarh who are grappling with vaccine hesitancy fuelled by rumours, misinformation, and the state government’s failure to address the post-vaccination health issues among the rural masses.
Data shows that Chhattisgarh has witnessed a low turnout for the second dose of vaccines with only 15.3 percent of people in the 45+ age group being fully vaccinated so far.
Before analysing the reasons behind the hesitancy, here's a look at the data of vaccination from 28 districts of the state for a clearer picture.
Data Shows Drop in Turnout for Second Dose
A district-wise analysis of the data comprising the total number of people who got their first and second doses reveals a drastic decline.
Barring five districts, less than 20 percent people out of the ones who took their first dose have taken the second one. At least in seven districts, less than 10 percent of the people who got their first jabs took the second one.
The data shows a significant difference in the number of people who have taken their second dose compared to the ones who have taken their first dose. But, could the low turnout for the second dose be attributed to a shortage of vaccines over the past several weeks?
State Immunisation officer Dr Amar Singh Thakur said that availability of vaccines is not at all an issue for the 45+ age group in Chhattisgarh.
“Number of vaccines is not an issue for the 45+ category people. We have vaccines for them. However, an extension of the time gap between the two doses is one factor for the lower turnout of people across the state for second doses. Lockdown is another factor for these low numbers. It caused a break in the momentum and people now do not carry the same enthusiasm for vaccination as they did when we first announced the vaccination drive,” he said that the state is more worried about the 18-44 age group for whom we don't have enough vaccines.
Failure of Govt to Address Post-Vaccination Issues
Several experts have said that the state government was not able to effectively communicate to the people that deaths during the second wave were not due to vaccination.
"The high percentage of the first dose of vaccination shows that there was no hesitancy at the beginning. But later, the government was not able to relay the information and apprise people at the community level. Coupled with the severe second wave in Chhattisgarh, the lack of sensitisation efforts has allowed the misinformation and misinterpretation of the situation to take hold, and people are worried. The limited vaccine availability has also led to fewer efforts by the government to reach villages. These are some of the reasons why there is a huge gap in the numbers of first and second dose recipients,” Sulakshana Nandi, convener of Public Health Resource Network, Chhattisgarh, said.
“People are not ignorant, but they fear because they have had experiences where their fellow villager was alright 10 days ago and died a few days after he got vaccinated,” she added.
Alok Shukla, convener of Chhattisgarh Bachao Aandolan, said that the scale of misinformation and rumours that the state is facing in getting its rural population vaccinated is "insurmountable".
“They are unable to enrich the trust among the village population towards vaccination. They are also failing to aware, inform, and address the issues of post-vaccination effects, symptoms, and their possible remedies,” he said.
“Another issue is that people are not being checked for COVID-19 and other health issues before vaccinating. In many cases, people lost their lives or got severely ill because they had other diseases but death or ailments got linked to the jab received,” he added.
Social Media Rumours, Lack of Follow-Up Boost Hesitancy
Another resident of Sonpuri, Dinesh Kumar, said, “We learned from social media that vaccine makes you impotent. This is a serious problem. If I suffer from impotency, how will I plan my family? Who will be responsible?”
Messages of vaccine-induced impotency, deaths, and ill-treated symptoms post-vaccination have been doing the rounds on social media and messenger groups. Since the population of 18-44 is more active on social media platforms, they fall prey to this fake information and hesitate to take the vaccine.
A health worker, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that the initial response to the vaccination drive was good and they were also able to encourage people to get vaccinated but after a while, they started resisting it.
"I feel that the internet has negatively impacted the vaccination drive in rural areas. People show us a lot of messages saying see it says that vaccination will kill you. Some say they have heard that in nearby villages, those who took vaccines got infected and suffered a lot. We are ridiculed and chased out of villages. Villagers are even resorting to violence to shoo us away. There is terror against vaccination in the rural areas,” he said.
Salman Khan, a driver from Raipur, who lost his aunt post-vaccination said: “She received her dose some two months back and the next day, she had a high fever. At first, we thought that it is common but after three days when there was no improvement, we rushed her to the hospital where she lost her life the next morning.”
“Nobody came to check whether she was alright or if she was suffering from any issues after she got vaccinated. Had someone come and checked her, she might have lived,” he added.
A local journalist said that a lot of hesitancy also came from several local leaders' initial mistrust towards Covaxin.
“The state government started this hassle. At first, they said we do not trust Covaxin and many local leaders stirred a sense of resentment against the vaccination among the rural population. Then, they turned around and said that we will start the vaccination drive. This ought to create a disturbance among the villagers. The dual stand of the government is a major factor that villagers now lack trust in this vaccination drive,” he said.
What State Government Says
Though the state government boasts of training its healthcare workers in order to inform and educate the villagers about COVID-19, vaccines, and post-vaccination effects, little is the impact on ground.
Speaking to The Quint, Alok Shukla, Secretary Health and Education, Chhattisgarh, said: “Chhattisgarh has been one of the top-performing states in vaccination drive. It has got 65 percent of its healthcare workers vaccinated (both doses) while 90 percent have got their first jabs. In the category of frontline workers, 100 percent have got their first dose while 65 percent have also been administered the second dose. Also, in the general citizen category (45+), the state has vaccinated 77 percent of the target population with their first dose.”
Spelling the reasons behind the reluctance among the general public towards vaccination Dr Amar Singh Thakur, State Immunisation Officer, said, “The low turnout is mainly due to lockdown and rise in COVID cases among households. As far as the rumours are concerned, it is mostly prevalent in the tribal areas and very less among the general population.”
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