THE PLATFORM

Ever since the pandemic first struck India and has killed around 405,000 people, scarcity of vaccines, patent waivers, compulsory licensing, and the procurement of vaccines have been discussed ad nauseam. However, what has been neglected is vaccine hesitancy in India.

The findings from a COVID survey targeting Facebook users in Indian are alarming. The trends suggest that India’s vaccine hesitation rate stands at approximately 28.6%. However, it stands at 42% in Tamil Nadu and up to 41% in Punjab.

Unfounded rumors of COVID vaccines containing animal products, having microchips, the ability to alter DNA, and leading to infertility are rampant on social media. There is so much misinformation and fake news that some people in Uttar Pradesh jumped into a river when officials visited there to campaign and spread awareness about vaccines.

Recently, a team of healthcare workers was beaten and assaulted by people in Madhya Pradesh just because they went there to motivate locals to get vaccinated. It is high time for the Modi government to educate Indians on the need to get vaccinated. The government needs to raise awareness and enlighten Indians on the need to get the jab.

Vaccine hesitancy is not a new challenge in India. Back in 2002, a thousand cases of polio were recorded throughout the country because of misinformation regarding the polio vaccine. The issue at that time was not a lack or shortage of vaccines, but an unwillingness of rural mothers to get their children vaccinated. In order to overcome this and to reach a wider audience, the government appointed legendary film actor, Amitabh Bachchan, as the brand ambassador for a polio vaccine campaign.

Amitabh Bachchan’s polio eradication advertisements had a personal appeal since he used both verbal and non-verbal communication which significantly improved the interaction between the advertiser and the targeted audience. The ads were created with the central theme “Do Boond Zindagi Ki” or “Two Drops for Life” in order to ease fears over the safety of polio vaccines.

In the vaccination centers, where earlier hardly any mothers came in, after the campaign was launched, the reception to polio vaccines increased. Interestingly, when the mothers were asked about such a sudden change in their conduct, they replied “Amit ji has become angry, we came here to get our children vaccinated because we don’t want furthermore to make him angry.”

Scientifically sound information on vaccines should be disseminated through local radio and television stations in local languages by local authorities, cultural leaders, and local artists to engage the people on the benefits of COVID vaccines. Even in Nandurbar, a city in Maharashtra, which at a time was at the bottom of the vaccination rate list, tireless efforts by local officials changed things for the better. And now the same district has vaccinated nearly 100% of the 45+ age cohort group.

There will always be people who take the vaccine and those who refuse regardless of the scientific evidence. Thus, we need to persuade them through good communication and advertisement tactics that getting vaccinated is essential not only for themselves but for their families, friends, and society as a whole.

Md Hasnain Raza is currently pursuing a B.A.LL.B (Hons) from the Faculty of Law, Jamia Millia Islamia.