Close to 42 percent of people in rural areas of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Bihar outrightly said they won’t take the COVID-19 vaccine citing “death” as one of the prominent reasons for their hesitancy.
This is as per a survey conducted by Video Volunteers for The Quint on countering COVID-19 and vaccine misinformation in the rural areas. The survey was conducted in 20 districts of eastern and central UP, and 12 districts in Bihar and Madhya Pradesh each.
The survey was conducted between 28 April and 12 May, and 1,761 people participated in it.
As per the findings, overall 26 percent of people believe that COVID is a government conspiracy, but among those who refuse to take the vaccine, 45 percent believe the same.
Similarly, of the people who refuse to take the vaccine, nearly 68 percent believe that the vaccine will not protect them from COVID. We also found that women were found to be more suspicious of the vaccine as compared to men.
It is important to note that 85 percent of the respondents had not been vaccinated at all at the time of conducting the survey, which means that they had not even taken one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
56% of People Believe WhatsApp Forwards
Of the 1,761 respondents who were surveyed, we found that 56 percent considered WhatsApp a reliable source of information and nearly 11 percent considered it to be their primary source of information about COVID-19.
On the other hand, 55 percent of the people said that they trust Facebook posts and 9 percent relied on it as their primary source of information.
The highest, however, was considered to be word of mouth. Nearly 48 percent of the participants said that friends and family are their source of information.
The survey also found that 27 percent of the respondents thought that death is an “expected symptom” of the COVID-19 vaccine. 8 percent believed that the vaccine causes impotency and 4 percent said that the vaccine could cause problems with the menstrual cycle.
Reports have showed how such rumours have led to fear and panic in the rural areas, which have been severely impacted in the second wave of the pandemic.
A survey conducted in the US and the UK has also found that exposure to misinformation reduced vaccine acceptance in people. The Quint's fact-checking initiative WebQoof has debunked several such pieces of misinformation that were found to be viral on WhatsApp.
Suspicion and Trust Deficit in Rural India
Lack of trust in the government and health authorities was also quoted to be one of the reasons behind vaccine hesitancy by participants.
26 percent of the respondents, both among the urban and rural poor, believed that COVID-19 is a government conspiracy and that asking them to vaccinate and wear masks is mere propaganda.
Misinformation or lack of proper information about the vaccine’s efficacy has also made people suspicious of the vaccine. 55 percent of the respondents said that they were fearful of getting the vaccine.
Among those who were fearful of the vaccine, 60 percent believed that the vaccine can cause death, while 15 percent believed that the vaccine can cause COVID-19.
The Gender, Religious, and Class Divides Widen
The survey found that traditionally marginalised communities such as scheduled castes and scheduled tribes are markedly worse informed than others.
65 percent of Scheduled Caste, 59 percent in Scheduled Tribes and 49 percent of those belonging to the Other Backward Castes (OBC) were fearful of getting the vaccine.
Religious minorities were in a similar situation with 68 percent of Muslim respondents indicating that they were fearful of the vaccine.
Half of the surveyed Muslims said that they will not get vaccinated as compared to 42 percent of the Hindus.
Ninety percent of respondents of the survey were Hindu and 7 percent were Muslim.
The lack of credible information was seen impacting the decision-making process in women respondents. Women were were found to be more suspicious of the vaccine with 61 percent of women expressing fear of the vaccine as compared to 49 percent of the men.
Of the surveyed women, 46 percent said that they will not get the vaccine, 4 percent higher than the average.
The survey suggests that the spread of misinformation, lack of credible news sources and trust deficit on the part of the government health and information networks had given rise to vaccine hesitancy the most vulnerable communities.
(Disclaimer: The Quint is working with Video Volunteers, a media organisation that promotes community media and citizen participation in marginalised and poor communities, to help fact-check misinformation about the COVID-19 immunisation process in the rural parts of the country, with a focus on women. The story has been published as part of the same project.)