Vaccination: Vaccination triumphs amidst misleading propaganda and superstition

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Former Acting Vice Chancellor of Delhi University
Epidemics often provide ample opportunities for false and misleading information, superstitions and conspiracy stories to flourish. In the midst of any public health crisis, timely delivery of correct information to the public is the most important responsibility. The most touching aspect amidst such challenging circumstances is that common man also came forward with new ideas to spread awareness or help. Vaccination is a key measure of equality. If a place does not have vaccination services, it is also quite possible that there will be no facilities like water and sanitation. Children in such areas often fall prey to diseases like pneumonia, diarrhea and measles. Vaccines easily protect against these diseases. Therefore, bridging the immunization gap between the poor, disadvantaged and illiterate groups in all areas, urban or rural, should be a priority. After all, vaccination benefits not only the children but the community as a whole.

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Vaccination eliminates fear of syringes
Let us take the case of Garasiya tribe of Sirohi district of Rajasthan. According to the 2011 census, the population of Garasiya tribe in the district is 1,036,346, which is about 28 percent. This tribe is known for its unconventional approach to marriage. It is prohibited to pierce the body of any person of this tribe till he attains adulthood. Due to this attitude, fear of syringes also arose in him. It is the result of a strange mix of skepticism, belief, history and customs. Every Garasiya village traditionally has a 'Bhopa', who acts as a healer of faith.

Rumors dispelled by vaccination awareness campaign
The fact is that most of the elders in this community never got vaccinated. Even today, when a pregnant woman comes to get vaccinated or a newly pregnant baby comes to get her vaccinated, she is stopped. Since children get sick for a day or two after getting the vaccine, it is said to be a side effect of this dose. The elders of the community consider syringes to be a curse. In such a situation, NGOs have to work hard to dispel such rumours.

Promotion of vaccination among tribes
We have been working on the ground for three decades to bring about a change in a community. In the last decade and a half, we have seen that most women have given up their inhibitions about vaccination. She learns about Mission Indradhanush and comes to get her children vaccinated.

Role of NGOs in dispelling rumours
Richa Audichya of 'Jana Chetna Sansthan', an NGO supported by UNICEF, said that this institute works extensively for Garasiya women. However, all progress made in this direction since the turn of the century was in danger of being washed away by the pandemic. Apart from this, propaganda containing conspiracies about the effect of the vaccine on fertility and longevity were also making inroads in the Garasiya community. Therefore, vaccination of the people of this community remained a big challenge for everyone. It was also challenging for officials from civil society to the Public Health Department to prepare the tribe to take the dose of vaccines and to deliver the vaccine to them.

Government level efforts
The Garasia settlements are usually spread over a wide area, with their houses mostly situated on hill tops. So health officials had to take a two-pronged approach. One involving local workers and the other getting incentives from the state government. Government officials were posted at ration shops, people are easily available here. Here the names of the people were confirmed in the vaccination records. At the same time, local activists, teachers, influential community leaders, priests and traditional healers and respected figures of the community were first vaccinated to instil confidence in the citizens. In Abu Road Block, the vaccination rate for those who received the first dose is 93 percent and the rate for those who received both doses is 81 percent. Routine immunization has once again accelerated and there has been steady progress towards COVID immunization.

Providing primary health services to the underprivileged
UNICEF is partnering with the Government of India in vaccination. Immunization and primary health services should also reach disadvantaged children and communities. Through planning, their implementation and monitoring of various strategies to ensure this, UNICEF is supporting the objective of identifying such disadvantaged and continuing essential health and immunization services. The Government of India partnership has also played an important role in creating awareness and confidence among communities to vaccinate children and strengthen routine immunization.

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It is more important than just giving information, it is important to change the behavior of people. For this you need to understand the inner perspective. There is a close relationship between what we do and what we believe. What people do has to be seen from the point of view of their faith or belief. Keeping this in mind, changes can be brought in their behavior. Supporting dialogue that brings about meaningful and profound changes in people's behaviour.