India consists of a population with different sets of profiles of socio-culturally diverse identities scattered within it. Any vaccination program which is aimed at covering the whole population has to use a diverse and heterogeneous strategy like the population of the country. Not to mention the fact that the enormous size of the population requires a large vaccination campaign.
Though the government started a vaccination program throughout the country, the pace has been slow. It happened due to various reasons. The vaccination program that was started in India did not pick up mainly due to the lack of vaccines coupled with a strong sense of vaccine hesitancy among the population.
This hesitancy was associated with socio-cultural differences, most notable among them being religion. There are pieces of evidence suggesting that various communities have shown resistance to previous public health initiatives in the country.
Given the background, we have written this paper based on a pilot study conducted by authors in Jammu & Kashmir and Uttar Pradesh. We do not claim that this study is in any way a representative study but it does help us understand various aspects which in one way or the other become a big hurdle in a mass vaccination program.
It is aimed at identifying the reasons why people in both states are hesitant to take a vaccine. The study is based on data collected from 95 respondents from two regions viz, Jammu and Kashmir and Uttar Pradesh. The sample for the study is drawn using the snowball sampling method through an online questionnaire.
Due to social distancing measures, we decided to limit ourselves to online sampling. The study was conducted in the past 2 weeks.
Firstly, we present the objectives of the study, followed by the distribution and profile of the respondents. Then we present the findings before providing some suggestions in the conclusion.
The study aimed at three main objectives:
Findings: This study clearly reflects that nearly half of the respondents were critical of government strategies.
A large number of respondents knew about the vaccines available in India. The majority of the respondents got information about vaccines through social media. None of the respondents, especially females, highlighted the issue of infertility to be associated with vaccination, however, we did hear about it in casual conversations.
There were differences in public opinion about the effects of vaccines in UP and J&K, based on the level of education and religious profiles. A large number of respondents (36.4%) preferred to get vaccines later, whereas 28.8% said that the reason for not getting vaccinated was the non-availability of vaccines in their areas.
Historical evidence suggests that resistance to vaccination drives has been happening around the globe. The present study in its effort to explore the various aspects of vaccine taking behaviour found that despite all the participants being educated, with most of them being post-graduates, the information regarding the names of vaccines available in India was inadequate.
Another important finding of our study is with regards to the taking of vaccine. It was found that the majority of our female respondents have not taken the vaccines. This is reflective of the apprehension which may be prevailing in the community, though those apprehensions were not talked about by the respondents.
Similarly, when asked about the ways through which people can be encouraged to take vaccines, it was found that generating awareness and removing misinformation through mass awareness campaigns could be beneficial.
Almost 70% of respondents were satisfied with government effort. Similarly, when it comes to the suggestions for increasing the number of people taking vaccines, it was found that the respondents provided a number of suggestions:
The research further reflects on the issue of the source of information regarding the vaccines. It was found that the majority of respondents had no clear idea as to where they came from, to know about the vaccine or the vaccination process in India.
By Ashish Kumar Singh and Wakar Amin
About the authors: Ashish Kumar Singh is a doctoral candidate of Political Science at the National Research University Higher School of Economics, Moscow, Russia.
Wakar Amin, PhD, is an assistant professor of social work at the University of Kashmir, Srinagar, India.
The authors thank Umang Srivastava and Shivam Verma for their help in data collection.