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Why Are Indians Hesitant To Take The Vaccine After A Year In Pandemic?

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This post is a part of YKA’s dedicated coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak and aims to present factual, reliable information. Read more.

Lockdown. Quarantine. Self-isolation. Pandemic. Words that were almost unknown until 2019 have suddenly become common parlance in 2020. Hand hygiene, air purifying, and social distancing have become daily norms on par with home-made concoctions and vaporizers. ‘Giloy Tulasi’ (Moonseed, Basil) hit the market shelves along with masks, gloves, shields, and sprays. 2020 shall go down world history as a year of unprecedented panic.

The panic that pushed humans indoors. The panic brought the economy down to its knees. The panic that strengthened international borders. The panic that cleared the skies of air traffic. One virus gave a befitting answer to unquestioned human aggression. One virus raised many questions regarding the future of human existence.

On the last day of 2019, China reported to the World Health Organisation about the presence of a deadly viral infection in Wuhan. Within less than two months the virus crossed international borders and by March 11, 2020, got recognized as a global pandemic. Lockdowns became a new normal across the globe.  India too locked its doors on March 22.

lockdown india

The nationwide lockdown, punctuated by empty streets and panic became the new normal in 2020.

The Impact Of COVID In India

Since the first reported case in Wuhan, 96.2 million cases have been reported worldwide claiming 2.06 million lives. 27th January would mark one year since India reported its first case. In this one year, 10.6 million Indians got infected with COVID-19 while 1.5 lakh of the infected lost their lives. COVID-19’s horrific tales created panic across the country. If there is one prayer that Indian Gods might have heard from their locked down temples in this one year, then it is for the speedy arrival of a vaccine against this deadly virus.

As it is not uncommon in India, religious rituals have been organized for the success of science. Medicine of any sort is welcomed with open arms. A vaccine against COVID-19 has been looked up to as the only ray of hope in times of such deadly darkness. Scientific experiments began at a war footing. Primary medicine to COVID-19 arrived within three months of the imposition of lockdown. However, soaring infection rates still called for an earlier arrival of a vaccine to put a full-stop to this entire menace. India competed with global institutions to bring out a vaccine as soon as possible and thanks to its relentless efforts, a vaccine did arrive with the first rays of 2021.

On January 2, 2021, the Drug Controller General of India approved two vaccines viz., Covishield and Covaxin for restricted emergency use in the country. Covishield is the AstraZeneca-Oxford University’s COVID-19 vaccine manufactured by the Serum Institute of India. Covaxin is a government-backed vaccine manufactured by Bharat Biotech, an Indian biotechnology institution.

The Indian Vaccination Drive

Speculations about approval to Covaxin immediately arose among scientific communities as Covaxin has not completed its phase III trials. Putting aside such speculations as mere cliché, the Indian government began the first phase of COVID-19 vaccine rollout across the country on 16 January 2021.

The vaccination drive is reported to be the biggest COVID-19 vaccination drive in the world. India aimed at vaccinating about 3 lakh people per day thus setting a target to vaccinate 3 crore health workers and frontline workers in its first phase of vaccination. A digital platform, Co-WIN has been launched to provide real-time information on the inoculation drive. The COVID-19 vaccination drive is hailed by international organizations. India also signed up contracts to export its indigenous vaccines. When the wait for the vaccine is finally over and all seems to be going well, a new word entered the media parlance i.e. vaccine hesitancy.

Day 1 of COVID-19 vaccination in India saw only 1.9 lakh of the estimated 3 lakh health workers and frontline workers volunteering for inoculation.  Lack of complete trust in the vaccine is cited to be one of the major reasons behind people not turning up for vaccination. Covaxin’s consent form (Bharat Biotech is asked to take consent form from its beneficiaries as Covaxin has not completed phase III human trials) is also reported to be scaring away the beneficiaries from coming forward to get a jab.

Vaccine Hesitancy And The ‘Wait And Watch’ Approach

Representational Image. Image Source: Inventive

Vaccine hesitancy caused by the pushing through of the indigenous vaccine has led to a slow start to the vaccination drive.

Already weakening infection spread in the country is also said to be one of the reasons behind people staying away from vaccination. The ‘wait and watch’ approach maintained by many people regarding vaccination shows that the early enthusiasm towards the immediate rollout of a vaccine has subdued to a great extent.

Diverse opinions are being heard in scientific and medical communities regarding vaccine hesitancy. One side of the argument says India is in no hurry to roll out a vaccine for emergency use in the case of COVID-19 as the disease’s mortality rate is comparatively lower than many other diseases and the infection rate is also on the downfall in India.

A counter-argument runs against vaccine hesitancy as a negligent act that might cause a huge loss to the country. Scientists in favor of vaccination advise getting inoculated when the strain is weak and the spread rate is slow. They warn that if an Indian variant of the virus or a second wave of the infection hits the country, then the losses will be higher than the previous wave.

To add fuel to the vaccine hesitancy rampant in the air, as many as nine deaths and sixteen hospitalizations were recorded in the first ten days of the vaccination drive. No deaths were confirmed to be linked to the vaccine but the mere speculation that the deaths might be due to adverse effects of the vaccine itself is enough to scare people away from vaccination. In this wake, it cannot be ruled out that the government might have done better if it had waited for the completion of phase III trials before giving a nod to the vaccine rollout.

Vaccination numbers are steadily increasing in the country but are still not meeting the set target by the government. The government is doing its best to promote indigenous vaccines as India’s pride and is continuously campaigning to instill trust in the vaccine through its tele-ads. Better trust in the vaccine might be attained if public representatives themselves volunteer for vaccination in the next phase.

Either by promoting trust in the vaccine through scientific results or by rolling back the vaccination drive, the government should take a step to answer the vaccine hesitancy. It can begin with investigating the deaths of health workers related to vaccination drive as its first step towards fighting vaccine hesitancy.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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