While the COVID-19 vaccination across India is galloping at an inexorable pace, it is remarkably low in the VIP constituency of Congress interim president Sonia Gandhi. Raebareli holds the unenvious distinction of being the district with the lowest vaccination rate in Uttar Pradesh and perhaps even the country, a report published on News 18 said.
Raebareli has an estimated population of almost 39 lakhs, a majority of which, that is, 85 per cent, is rural population. Out of 39 lakh people, only 2.12 lakh people have been vaccinated in Raebareli so far. Of the 2.12 lakh people, 1.81 lakh of them are jabbed with their first dose while others are fully vaccinated. This means, only about 4.6 per cent of the district’s population has been inoculated till now. This is significantly lower than the state’s average vaccination coverage, which is hovering around 9 per cent.
Notably, only 32,263 people have got both the jabs in Raebareli, which means that not even 1 per cent of the town’s population is fully vaccinated.
In its ground coverage, News 18 found vaccine hesitancy one of the primary reasons for Raebareli’s dismal vaccination coverage. People they spoke to admitted that there was a palpable fear about the possible side effects that vaccine might induce among the people of the town.
“We got our first dose in April and today we got our second jab. There’s a lot of vaccine hesitancy here. In fact, so many people tried to persuade me to not come and get the second jab,” News 18 quoted 69-year-old Dinesh Bahadur Singh as saying. His wife, Jyotima Singh (65), recalled how her sister in Delhi paid Rs 900 for a jab in a private hospital in Delhi while it was free of cost at Raebareli and yet people were not inclined to take it.
The condition of the interiors of Raebareli is even more abject. The crowd at the Community Health Centre in Amawan was thinner as people stay away from the vaccination centre. One of the residents, Gulab Kali Devi (75), who arrived at the centre for her second dose, patiently waited as the staff kept waiting for more people to arrive before they could open the vial that contains 10 shots so that none of it goes to waste.
Devi’s son Surendra Pratap Singh says people in his village are afraid of taking the jab. “If people get fever after taking the first jab, they would start dissuading other from taking the vaccine. But I got both my aged parents fully vaccinated,” Singh said.
A healthcare worker lamented about how they were finding it increasingly difficult to convince people to take the jab. She said there is a need to continuously motivate people and help them understand the benefits of vaccines and how they help in fighting the coronavirus.
Politicians, especially Akhilesh Yadav, responsible for fueling doubts among people with regards to vaccination
Another resident of the town, Virendra Singh, who got his 24-year-old daughter vaccinated with the first shot, blamed the confusion created by politicians for the vaccine hesitancy prevalent in Raebareli. He said most Yadavs and Muslims in his village have refused to get jabbed after Akhilesh Yadav earlier said that he would not take the vaccine.
Though the Congress party recently claimed that its president, Sonia Gandhi, took both doses of vaccine, the local people are unaware of it. “We did not see her picture of taking the vaccine. Gandhi can issue an appeal to the people of Raebareli to take jabs. Maybe it helps,” a student Nitin Mohan said.
NK Shrivastava, the chief medical superintendent at the Raebareli district hospital, admitted that there is some reluctance among locals about the vaccines. “Villagers come and ask me before taking the vaccine if they will have to stay indoors for three days after taking a shot. Taking advance registration for 18-44 category is also an issue for some apart from misinformation on social media. We try and remove the doubts of people,” Shrivastava said.
After a tepid response to vaccination initially, the Chief Medical Officer of Raebareli, Virendra Kumar Singh says that things are improving. “Initially, our vaccination programme did hit roadblocks with the hesitance among the locals, especially those belonging to 45+ age group. Now, the situation is improving and from July, we are planning a big increase in vaccination,” Singh said.
However, the number of people vaccinated on Friday was less than impressive. A paltry 3,300 people got vaccinated on Friday and only 2,700-odd people were inoculated on the earlier two days. The 85 per cent of the rural population, which are spread over 4,000 sq kilometres, has made it even more difficult for the authorities to get people to vaccinate at 89 vaccination centres in Raebareli.