Vaccine hesitancy: Why it could affect India’s vaccination drive

Vaccine hesitancy: Why it could affect India’s vaccination drive

NEW DELHI: The much-awaited Covid-19 vaccination drive has started in some parts of the world. For a world battered by the Covid-19 pandemic, vaccination is perhaps the only immediate hope. Countries across the globe are working on a war footing to procure the Covid-19 vaccine and plan mass vaccination drives.
India which has seen a steady fall in cases since the peak of September 17 is also gearing up for the daunting task of vaccinating a huge population.
However, it is not just the logistics that the government will have to worry about. The government may also have to convince people to opt for the vaccine. It may sound strange, given the desperation for a Covid-19 vaccine worldwide, the truth is not everyone is willing to go for vaccination immediately.
An online survey revealed that government may also have to counter the problem of vaccine hesitancy.
What does Vaccine hesitancy mean?
The World Health Organisation (WHO) describes vaccine hesitancy as the reluctance or refusal to vaccinate despite the availability of vaccines that threatens to reverse progress made in tackling vaccine-preventable diseases. In 2019, WHO listed “vaccine hesitancy” as among the top 10 threats to global health.
Why people choose not to vaccinate
The reasons why people choose not to vaccinate are complex; a vaccines advisory group to WHO identified complacency, inconvenience in accessing vaccines, and lack of confidence as key reasons underlying hesitancy. In this case, many have concerns about the accelerated speed of Covid-19 vaccine development.
“The efficacy of Covid-19 vaccine is an issue leading to hesitancy among the people to undergo the vaccination since it may remain 60% effective in some individuals while it may reach 70% efficacy in others. There is an inherent issue of vaccine hesitancy which may have nothing to do with adverse events. A section of the population thinks that it does not require vaccination,” Rajesh Bhushan, Union health secretary had said admitting that vaccine hesitancy could be a matter of concern.
Survey findings
A survey from early November, carried out by the World Economic Forum and covering 18,526 people in 15 countries, showed only 73% of people willing to get a Covid-19 vaccine, a four-point fall since August.
A survey conducted by LocalCircles, a community social media platform, revealed that despite the chances of an affordable Covid-19 vaccine in the near future, 59% Indians will not rush to take it.
The survey received 25,000+ responses from people across 262 districts of the country. Out of 8,936 respondents, 8 per cent said, “I am a health or frontline worker and will get it on priority through the government”, 13 per cent said “will get it as quickly as it becomes available via any healthcare channel”, 11 per cent said, “will get it as quickly as it becomes available via private healthcare channel”. Another 59 per cent said that they were in no rush to take the vaccine.
Vaccine hesitancy has been a concern in India in the past
In 2000’s Muslims in Uttar Pradesh had a misconception over oral poliovirus vaccines (OPV) causing infertility and was ‘ineffective’. Due to this reason, there was a 5 times low uptake of OPV. Similarly, in 2016, there was a low uptake of diphtheria vaccine among the Muslims in Kerala.
One of the reasons was because of the propaganda that the vaccine was derived from animal products which is forbidden by Islamic law. There was low uptake of measles and rubella (MR) vaccine in 2017 in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. The core reasons were fear, misinformation spread on social media and lack of awareness.
Status of Covid-19 vaccines in India
India is the largest buyer of Covid-19 vaccines in the world with 1.6 billion doses, according to a global analysis. Multiple vaccine candidates are in different stages of development in India. In November, Union health minister Harsh Vardhan said 400-500 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines were estimated to be made available for 250 to 300 million (25 crore to 30 crore) people in India by July-August 2021.
What the experts say
“No vaccine (or drug from aspirin to zinc) is absolutely risk-free. But no vaccine is licensed where benefits don’t hugely outweigh any risk,” said vaccine scientist and former chair of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) panel on Covid-19 drugs and vaccines Dr Gagandeep Kang.
“When thousands of people get vaccines in trials, some rare events are likely to only be picked up in phase III or later. But also some illnesses are bound to happen to vaccinated people even if the vaccine is safe,” she said in a series of tweets.

India may have to spend $1.8 billion on Covid-19 vaccines in first phase
India, which has the world’s second highest caseload of Covid-19 cases will have to spend $1.4 billion to $1.8 billion in the first phase of vaccination programme, according to estimates by the GAVI vaccines alliance. If India got 190-250 million shots of the vaccine under the COVAX facility then the government will need to spend about $1.4 billion.
However, if India received a lower allocation of 95-125 million doses, then the government will have to line up to $1.8 billion for procuring additional shots.
India’s Covid-19 vaccination programme
From vaccinating 100-200 people in each session per day to monitoring them for 30 minutes after administering the shots for any adverse event, the government has released detailed guidelines for mass vaccination drive. Every vaccination session site will be linked to a designated Adverse Event Following immunisation (AEFI) management centre to ensure all such events are tackled and reported efficiently. The health ministry has also issued guidelines for monitoring adverse events.
However, the Union health secretary has said that it is the responsibility of the Union and the state government to allay fears among the people regarding the vaccine.
The health ministry has told states to engage trusted sources including social workers, faith leaders, professional organisation, to educate about vaccine recommendations and availability and to address hesitancy.
The government has also identified 23 ministries and departments at the Centre and state level and assigned roles for planning, implementation, social mobilisation and awareness generation for the vaccine rollout.

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