Do you feel hesitant before getting vaccinated ? Or do you feel the sensation of hair standing on your skin whenever you go to the clinic for a vaccination? Do you squirm at the sight of a syringe?
These are all signs of vaccine hesitancy. World Health Organization in its 2019 report included vaccine hesitancy as among the 10 threats to global health along with air pollution, climate change, HIV and non communicable diseases.
What is vaccine hesitancy?
WHO defined vaccine hesitancy as the refusal or reluctance to vaccinate despite availability of vaccines and it threatens to reverse progress made in tackling vaccine-preventable diseases. WHO identified 3 reasons why people choose not to vaccinate.
Complacency i.e. general reluctance towards vaccination.
Inconvenience i.e. it is painful or discomforting.
Lack of confidence about the efficacy of vaccines.
In COVID-19 pandemic, vaccine hesitancy is one of the major challenges which governments across the world need to address in order to achieve herd immunity. For instance, tribals in Odisha’s Rayagada district fled the village after locking up their houses to avoid taking the COVID-19 vaccine. Tribals belonging to the Kondh community were misled by some Whatsapp videos which predicted death within 2 years of vaccination.
Such levels of vaccine hesitancy have dogged the vaccination program, right from the beginning. Reports of adverse effects like blood clotting from some countries like Denmark which took out Astrazeneca vaccines from its vaccination drive, has also slowed down the pace of vaccination in the initial period. Further, rumors and hearsay about adverse effects such as inducing sterility led to poor turnout.
How to overcome this challenge?
First step would be by putting the right data in public eg. how many people develop such adverse effects post vaccination whether these effects are related to jab or not. Sometimes the media also sensationalize any death or severe adverse effects post vaccination without letting health authorities establish the cause for the same.
For rural folk who are more driven by rumour. They need clear, constant and cultural specific social messaging on the benefits and necessity of being vaccinated. For this, local language should be used to deliver the message.
There are 2 such examples employed by authorities to dispel fear about vaccine hesitancy.
In Indore, crisis management committees have been set up at the district, block, panchayat and ward levels with public representatives to engage with people. In Biladi village in the district of Nandurbar in Maharashtra, Sachin Patki, principal of the zilla Parishad primary school has begun a crusade against misinformation. Every morning he dons a different costume- as a policeman, a doctor or even a religious deity- to educate village residents about covid appropriate behaviour and importance of inoculation.
So, next time you feel discomfort at the sight of the syringe, remember this is the vaccine hesitancy. Take a deep breath and remind yourself that you need to overcome it.