The government is organising free vaccination camps in rural India. ASHAs and ANMs are going house to house to convince villagers to get vaccinated. But villagers refuse to be jabbed. Why? A Gaon Connection report from vaccination camps in Unnao, Uttar Pradesh.
Jagetha (Unnao), Uttar Pradesh
Since early morning today, Rekha Devi has been on her toes visiting families door-to-door in her village Jagetha in Unnao, Uttar Pradesh. But as soon as villagers spot her, they run indoors and shut the door on her. Some shower slurs at her. However, her face covered with the pallu of her synthetic saree, she marches on hoping to convince a few.
Rekha is an ASHA (accredited social health activist) bahu, a frontline worker, and has the most formidable job of bringing villagers from their homes to the primary school Jagetha where the government has organised a vaccination camp today, which is being held from 9 am till 4 pm.
Jagetha in Bichiya block has a total population of about 1,200 people. But till 11 am, not even a single villager had come for vaccination. The camp is equipped with an ANM (auxiliary nurse midwife) and two ASHA workers. Since March, this is the fourth such vaccination camp being held at the village. But rather than inspiring confidence, the vaccination camps are being viewed with suspicion, bordering on ‘conspiracy theory’.
“People don’t take our advice seriously. They ask us to leave the moment we begin to talk about vaccination. Some even use slurs to disrespect us. Even after doing rounds of the households, five to six times a day, very few people get convinced,” Rekha told Gaon Connection.
In the second wave of the pandemic, the virus has spread deep inside rural India and villages have been reporting high COVID cases. In order to vaccinate the rural population, the government has been holding free vaccination camps in villages. However, the response remains lukewarm.
Rather in Jagetha village, the footfall of people to get vaccinated has been on a downward trend ever since the village witnessed its first vaccination drive on March 25 this year.
“On March 25, when the very first vaccination camp was organised here, a total of 109 people showed up. On the second camp which was set up on April 2, another 52 people received the first dose of vaccine,” Kamla Srivastava, the ANM in charge of the Jagetha vaccination camp, told Gaon Connection.
However, during the third vaccination camp on May 13, the numbers had dropped drastically. “Only 29 villagers got vaccinated including those who received their second shot,” said Srivastava.
“Today, we opened the camp at nine in the morning, it’s been almost two hours and nobody has come yet to get vaccinated,” the ANM added.
When Gaon Connection spoke with the local people in Jagetha village, they said that post the first jab in March, they experienced fever, which has cast doubts in their minds about the vaccine.
“I won’t get the tika (jab). I got sick after getting the vaccine, had high fever and couldn’t work due to weakness. I don’t think it’s a good thing,” a 60-year-old resident of Jagetha, told Gaon Connection.
Gaon Connection also went to the house of Ganga Prasad, a 53-year-old from the same village, who said that if death comes to anybody, nothing can really save them. “I am not getting vaccinated because I have no health issues. I am fit, I don’t think there’s a need to be vaccinated,” he said.
In such a scenario, ASHAs are finding it hard to convince villagers for vaccination. Middle-aged Foolmati, another ASHA worker at the vaccination camp in Jagetha, said that people are suspicious about the vaccination campaign.
“The villagers tell me rudely that I am getting people killed by making them take the vaccine,” an exasperated Foolmati told Gaon Connection.. “When I tell them that I myself have received the dose, they reason that there are two separate vaccines — one is for ASHA and other officials and the other one is getting people killed. They are suspicious,” she added.
About 15 kilometres from Jagetha village, a pall of gloom has fallen on Atarsa village in Unnao. A vaccination camp is being held in this village as well.
Amita Devi, a BHW (behavioural health worker), who is at the vaccination camp, told Gaon Connection that she has been waiting at the centre for five hours and nobody had come to get vaccinated till 2pm today.
“People here believe that vaccine is the actual cause of the disease [COVID]. They are ready to die but aren’t willing to get vaccinated,” she said.
Sarita Devi, an ASHA worker in the same village told Gaon Connection that her efforts at convincing the people in the village are proving to be futile.
“We try our best to convince them somehow, they tell us that the first dose caused fever and they allege that this vaccination exercise is suspiciously malicious. They don’t even want to talk to us on this topic. Nothing seems to be working to convince them,” she told Gaon Connection.
Lying on the charpai outside his hut, Sukhdeen of Atarsa village has got first dose of the vaccine. But, refuses to get the second dose. “After the first dose, I faced so much trouble [fever and weakness], I will not take the second dose,” he told Gaon Connection. “Mare ka hoi to marr jaibe aise hi [if I have to die, let me die like this only],” he added.
Meanwhile, Gaon Connection also met 72-year-old Bhagwandas, who is caretaker of a mango orchard. “I have got the pehla teeka [first dose], but will not take the doosra teeka [second dose],” he said. “After the first dose, I was troubled due to fever. Why will I take the second dose now?” he asked. Bhagwandas Meanwhile, Gaon Connection also met 72-year-old Bhagwandas, who is caretaker of a mango orchard. “I have got the pehla teeka [first dose], but will not take the doosra teeka [second dose],” he said. “After the first dose, I was troubled due to fever. Why will I take the second dose now?” he asked.
According to Amita Devi, the BHW at Atarsa, so far 140 villagers had taken the first dose and only 20 had taken the second dose. The village has a population of about 900 people.
Written by Pratyaksh Srivastava