Haribhai Patel, a farmer from Sabarkantha district in North Gujarat, had his family fully vaccinated against Covid. He is thankful to the government for the free doses and also to the dairy cooperative society leaders who convinced him and his family to take the vaccination.

Similarly, in Madhya Pradesh’s Indore district, women members of farmer families, were among those playing the role of influencers to convince the families in their neighbourhood to get the jab.

Local influencers

As India reached the landmark of 100 crore vaccinations, it is these local influencers like cooperative members and social leaders, who helped push vaccinations in the rural areas, which is home to nearly 70 per cent of the country’s population.

“It was necessary to take rural population into confidence for vaccines. With the intervention of local leaders, peer groups and awareness through mass media, we saw more people showing confidence on vaccination,” said Manohar Patidar a leader from Patidar community in Indore.

Temporary vaccination centers set up at agriculture mandis, cooperative societies and by social groups, became big confidence boosters for those who were apprehensive about visiting a government health center for the jab.

“They saw their community members and peers taking the vaccine doses without any problems. So, they got encouraged, too,” added Patidar.

In the hinterland, such informal social groups, agriculture market organisations and cooperative bodies, led the mission to vaccinate people against Covid. After initial hesitation and notions over vaccines, a demonstration effect helped pull more people to take the jab.

Dairy major Amul’s member unions across Gujarat played the role of myth-buster and ambassador of the government’s vaccination programme.

Shamalbhai Patel, Chairman of Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation (GCMMF) - Amul Federation, said: “Our member unions and their committees reached out to people in the villages and convinced families to take the vaccines.

“Since these leaders have strong local connect and influence, their words carry weight. Without such organisations and leaders, vaccinating the rural communities would have been very difficult,” said Patel, who is also the Chairman of North Gujarat’s Sabarkantha District Cooperative Milk Union. According to healthcare workers at the local level, the initial days of vaccination saw a lot of resistance from the people.

A long wait

There were instances when medical teams and vaccinators had to keep waiting for people the whole day.

“A big rush started after the second wave in April-May. The fear of infection and the influence of the local leaders also played an important role in drawing more people to the vaccination sites,” said one of the healthcare workers involved in vaccination.

As per COWIN data, villages have been administering twice the number of vaccines than urban centers.