Rajat Sharma

How rumours are still spreading fear about Covid vaccine in India

AKBToday I want to write about people who are deliberately trying to avoid Covid vaccination. There are two types of such people: (1) those who say Covid vaccine can cause death, and (2) those who say, since everybody has to die some day, there is no point in getting vaccinated. The first group fears Covid vaccines, and the second group has no fear of the Covid pandemic. Both the Centre and state governments are worried about both these types of people. Since the spread of pandemic is now on the lower side, people, in general, have stopped fearing the virus and have, more or less, become callous. In the process, there is fear among those in charge of public health about a new wave of pandemic that could emerge.

On Wednesday, Maharashtra government released a five month old video of super star Salman Khan in which he appealed to people to get themselves vaccinated. Salman has millions of fans and his words carry weight, but when our reporters explored further, they found that people mostly living in Muslim-dominated localities of the state are now showing vaccine hesitancy. People in many of these localities are outrightly refusing to get vaccinated, despite appeals from Islamic clerics and celebrities.

India TV reporters went to Muslim dominated localities in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, and found there was overall resistance to vaccination among Muslims. Even in a cosmopolitan metro like Mumbai, there are many who openly say they will not get vaccinated, come what may, because they have seen videos on YouTube and WhatsApp, about how people have died despite taking vaccines. But nobody is ready to vouch for the authenticity of these videos.

At a time when 115 crore vaccines have been administered across the length and breadth of India, such views are outrageous. The world has accepted India’s capability both in the manufacture of Covid vaccines and in carrying out mass vaccination drive. There are 99 countries in the world, including India, where Covishield and Covaxin (an indigenously manufactured vaccine recently approved by WHO) are being administered.

It is strange that there are still millions who do not trust our scientists, doctors, and senior government officials, but believe in baseless rumours peddled on WhatsApp and YouTube about vaccination.

India TV reporter Dinesh Maurya visited Shivaji Nagar, a Muslim dominated locality in Mumbai, where the percentage of vaccination is low. He spoke to dozens of people in streets and markets. Among them, nearly three fourth people said they are yet to take vaccine. Asked about the reason, most of the people said, “do you want us to die by getting vaccinated?”. Some said people are falling sick after being vaccinated and dying. Asked about facts, most of them said, they got their info on WhatsApp, YouTube and other internet websites.

Naturally, Maharashtra government is getting worried over vaccine hesitancy among sections of the population. There are reports of people in localities shutting the doors of their homes when vaccination teams arrive. So far, 10.5 crore vaccine doses have been administered throughout Maharashtra, and out of them roughly 8 crore people have taken their first dose. The state government wants the entire adult population to get vaccinated by the end of this month, but this seems to be a tall order.

The state health minister Rajesh Tope said, the government decided to rope in film star Salman Khan because many people in Muslim dominated areas are showing vaccine hesitancy. Echoing this sentiment, Mumbai Mayor Kishori Pednekar also said, “there are religious apprehensions among Muslims over vaccination, because of which there has been a slight delay in the drive. We hope, Muslims will take vaccine and actors like Salman Khan should encourage them.” Rajesh Tope said, “We are trying to speed up vaccination. Salman Khan is not the star acceptable to only one particular religion. He is popular among people belonging to all religions. There is no politics in this. Wherever we find vaccine hesitancy, we take help of religious leaders and celebrities to create awareness.”

Maharashtra currently ranks No.1 in the number of Covid cases. 66.25 lakh people were infected with Coronavirus out of which more than 1.4 lakh Covid patients died. 886 fresh Covid cases were reported in Maharashtra on Wednesday, while 34 people died. The danger of the pandemic spreading is still there, and the state government is trying its utmost to stem a fresh wave. But the rumour mill is working on overdrive and creating scare about vaccines among people.

The Salman Khan video was prepared on June 26 this year. Five months ago, Salman had got the video recorded on the appeal of BMC (Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation). BMC had posted this video on its Twitter handle at that time, but since the second wave of pandemic was then on the wane, and common people in Mumbai were voluntarily coming forward in large numbers to take vaccine, out of fear, there were huge crowds outside vaccination centres, and the government had a meagre supply of vaccines at that time. The BMC did not publicize the video at that time. Now that people have stopped fearing the pandemic and are again showing vaccine hesitancy, the government decided to release the Salman Khan video again. Islamic clerics in Mumbai and other parts of Maharashtra are regularly appealing to Muslims to come forward and get the jab.

The rumour mills are also active in neighbouring Madhya Pradesh. Our reporter Anurag Amitabh went to Saqlaini mosque in Bhopal. The first man he met told him, “where is the need to take the jab, when I have no disease? People are dying even after taking vaccine”. However others present in the mosque countered him by saying that people are now coming forward to take the jab. There are, however, many who have taken the first dose, but are yet to take the second jab.

On Wednesday, more than 14 lakh Covid doses were administered across MP. Till now, 7.75 crore doses have been administered in the state. More than 5 crore out of the total 7.5 crore population in MP have taken the first dose, while more than 2.5 crore people have taken both the doses. But the pace of vaccination drive is slow in Muslim dominated areas.

In Bismillah Colony of Bhopal, our reporter saw Muslim women taking vaccines. Many of them said, they were afraid about vaccination earlier, but now the fear of vaccine is gone. The state government has threatened to stop supply of ration to those who have not taken both the doses. However, state health minister Prabhuram Chowdhary said, till now ration has not been discontinued to a single beneficiary. This was only meant to encourage people to line up and get their jab.

To those who are still afraid of vaccine, I want to tell this: Vaccine is your protection shield (Raksha kavach). In countries like Romania, where few people took vaccines, the number of Covid related deaths was higher. Till now, in India, more than 38 crore Indians have taken both the doses, and 37.5 crore Indians have taken their first dose. In other words, on Wednesday, the number of Indians who took both the doses is higher than those who have taken a single dose.

More than 75 crore Indians have been vaccinated till now, but there has not been a single case in which anybody died because of vaccination. Do not believe in rumours. There are ample stocks of vaccines available across India today. We should be happy to know that due to a bumper production of vaccines in India, we have again started exporting vaccines to different countries. The Centre is providing vaccine to every Indian free of cost, and in private hospitals too, vaccines are being given at a price lower than the fixed maximum, because the expiry dates of vaccines are near.

Remember, if you have taken your vaccine, the risk is lesser. Even if you are infected with the virus, there is less possibility of being hospitalized. Do get yourself vaccinated, for your own benefit and in the national interest.

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