Why the hesitancy in taking the jab?

Nikkhil K Masurkar | Updated on April 22, 2021

This stems from unfounded fears about the safety of the vaccines and their side-effects

India has given emergency use authorisation (EUA) to two Covid-19 vaccines, Covishield from Serum Institute of India and Covaxin from Bharat Biotech International, both of which are being used in the government’s vaccination programme.

The Centre announced that over two lakh citizens were vaccinated on the first day of the Covid-19 immunisation drive in India. On January 16, India began the “world’s biggest coronavirus vaccination campaign.” The much-anticipated Covid vaccine was first provided to healthcare professionals and frontline workers.

However, every week, the number of people who showed up for Covid vaccinations began to reduce. While millions of people in India are thankful for the vaccine, there are millions who are hesitant to take it.

Recent data show that the number of people taking the vaccine in each slot is declining.

According to high-ranking government officials, less than 40 per cent of people showed up for vaccination in at least three States in January. According to Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan, in Tamil Nadu, Punjab and Puducherry the government officials vaccinated only 40 per cent of their set target. According to numbers published later, 6,31,417 people were vaccinated in 11,660 sessions, resulting in a coverage rate of 54 people per session while 100 was their acceptable threshold.

In the second week of January, with the exception of Sunday, participation fell from 4,319 on Saturday to 3,593 on Monday. Just eight people were vaccinated on Monday at the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences in Delhi.

Other hospitals in Delhi are now concerned that vaccine bottles will go to waste if they don’t have 10 people to administer shots to within four hours of opening a bottle. Just 3,598 healthcare professionals in Delhi received their vaccine on Monday. The turnout was well below the daily goal of 8,136, resulting in a mere 44 per cent participation in India’s capital city.

The participation rate for vaccines was 48 per cent on the first day in Mumbai, one of the cities hardest hit by Covid, with 1,926 people out of a total of 4,000 showing up for their jab. It fell short of Mumbai's big goal of immunising 50,000 healthcare professionals a day.

Are there valid reasons?

“A long sequence of concerns have been presented about the vaccine’s effectiveness and safety,” said the director of Niramaya Hospital in Mumbai. The fact that doctors were asked to take it first caused issues; doctors are not used to participating in clinical studies, which is why the response has been weak.

In a recent interview, Randeep Guleria, Director of AIIMS, said that some of the apprehension stems from misunderstandings about vaccines in general and unfounded fears about the safety of the two vaccines used in India. The problem is reinforced by the fact that Phase 3 trials for one of the vaccines, Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin, have yielded no substantial results.

Guleria also added, “At first, healthcare professionals were happy to receive the vaccine.” “So then, because of so much information going viral on the Internet, because of side-effects being exaggerated, it caused a lot of fear, not just among medical professionals but also among the general public.”

Some medical professionals also raised concerns that they had not been given enough information about the vaccines' safety and effectiveness and that the vaccines were being rolled out too quickly.

A paediatrician in Kashipur, Namrata Agarwal, is one of the sceptics. She expressed her apprehension by saying, “All of the protocols were paced and hastily completed. I'm not concerned about a vaccine’s effectiveness — that can vary — because I can deal with that; rather, I'm concerned about its safety and the possibility of harm.”

According to the Health Ministry statistics, at least 447 cases of adverse effects following vaccination have been registered so far. Of these, only three were hospitalised. Most of the adverse effects detected so far are harmless in nature, such as fever, nausea, and headaches.

To reassure people about the safety of the vaccines, both the manufacturers, Bharat Biotech and Serum Institute, have provided fact-sheets about their vaccines.

Government officials and high-ranking medical professionals seem confident about the safety of the vaccines. Says Balram Bhargava, Director, ICMR, “Reaching 500,000 vaccinations, it’s obvious that both vaccines are very secure. Covid vaccines have three key elements: they will not trigger Covid-19, they prevent coronavirus infections, and they mitigate coronavirus deaths. Now is the time to get vaccinated so that we can stop the cycle of propagation.”

The writer is Executive Director,

ENTOD International

Published on April 22, 2021

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