- The first dose of COVID vaccine has been given in all panchayat villages
- 23 villages don’t have motorable road so healthcare workers had to walk
- Since there is no internet, hard copy of a vaccination certificate is given
New Delhi: Earlier this month, on June 3, Dr Jahangir Panzoo and his team of 14 people including ASHA and Anganwadi workers from Bandipora District in Jammu and Kashmir were given a task to vaccinate the population of Viewan village against COVID-19. Viewan is a tiny hamlet, located only 28kms away from the district headquarters. However, the team of healthcare workers was met with the first challenge – the lack of a motorable road to Viewan. The tough terrain of around 18 kilometers was covered on foot only to meet villagers who straight away said no to be vaccinated. Talking to NDTV about the COVID vaccination drive in Viewan village, Dr Jahangir Panzoo, Incharge medical officer, COVID vaccination said,
Viewan village is far away from the main town. There is a lack of education, communication, awareness and access to information among the villagers. There people don’t have access to smartphones or the internet. Radio is their main source of information. When we reached the village, we realised that there is a rumour doing the rounds – whoever takes the vaccine will die within two years. As a result of which, no one was actually interested in listening to us.
Dr Panzoo and his team reached out to the influential people of the village like Sarpanch (village head) and Maulvi, the religious leader and educated them about the importance of COVID vaccination. On day one, the team was able to vaccinate only seven people and had to stay there for the night to watch for any Adverse Event Following Immunisation (AEFI).
Overnight, we talked to villagers; influential people interacted with locals and tried convincing them. To convince them, we said, soon vaccination certificate will be needed at ration shops and to access other essential things. The next morning, when people, who took the vaccine, were safe and sound and had only mild side effects like fever and body ache it helped us gain the trust of locals. Villagers started showing up for vaccination and it felt like a small victory. However, since we were not carrying food and other essentials to stay there for a longer period, we came back and visited the village again after two days. It took us four days and two nights to administer the first dose of Covishield, COVID-19 vaccine to all adults in Viewan, said Dr Panzoo.
Currently, the COVID vaccination process is digital, from registering for the vaccination to procuring a vaccination certificate, one needs access to a mobile phone. This was another challenge for the healthcare workers in Viewan as there is no internet connectivity in the village, said Dr Panzoo. Explaining how the team overcame this challenge, Dr Panzoo said,
We carried blank COVID vaccination certificates with us and filled and handed them over to beneficiaries after vaccination. The certificate is not exactly like the one you get on Co-WIN. We designed our own certificate which states the name of the beneficiary, the dose that they received and date. It is authorised by the medical officer in charge and block medical officer.
Viewan is one of the 23 villages in Bandipora District which don’t have motorable road and are far-flung from the district. A similar strategy that is going door-to-door for vaccination and motivating people with the help of local leaders was adopted in all 23 villages. According to Dr Masarat Iqbal Wani, District Nodal Officer and Block Medical Officer, Viewan is the first village in India to achieve 100 per cent administration of the first dose. Talking to NDTV about the need for door-to-door vaccination, Dr Wani said,
Vaccine is our shield against COVID-19 and it’s important everyone takes it. The reason we focused on Viewan first because the village consists of nomadic families who go to higher reaches for grazing their livestock. Soon they will go and return after three months. Hence, we decided to ensure 100 per cent vaccination coverage and we chose to administer Covishield so that we get a window of 12-16 weeks, the time villagers are away, for the second dose.
60 teams consisting of 700 employees from different departments – healthcare workers, ASHAs, ANM (Auxiliary Midwife), Anganwadi workers, Sarpanches, Booth Level Officers (BLOs), among others – were formed to cover all panchayat villages in the district. As of June 22, 94 per cent of villages have attained 100 per cent vaccination in terms of the first dose. In some panchayat villages including Kudara, Sumlar and Chandaji, a night vaccination drive was initiated because people who go out for grazing cattle during the day, return only after 7pm.
Sarpanch (village head) worked as the role model for the local community. Kousar Shaseeq, Vice Chairperson District Development Councilor (DDC), Bandipora said,
I and my immediate family members took the vaccine first and slowly our neighbours, extended family members and other members of the village understood that vaccination is safe and came forward to take it.
Ms Shaseeq informed that psychologists were also arranged to counsel people about the benefits and the need for vaccination.
Majaz Hassan Khan, DDC Candidate from Bana Koot Block, Bandipora is also one of the role models for COVID vaccination. While talking to NDTV, he said,
To dispel myths, we would go door-to-door and address people’s concerns. Sometimes we would counter question and ask, ‘When a child is born, they are given various vaccines to protect them from multiple diseases like polio. Has polio vaccine led to the death of your child?’ The answer would be no because we know it’s safe. And that’s how we would build the case for COVID vaccines.
Similarly, for fishermen working in Wular Lake, a COVID vaccination drive was organised at their worksite. The reason being, during the day, fishermen are not at home, so they often get missed from the vaccination drive.
We were neither able to bust misconceptions among fishermen nor able to vaccinate them because they were always out. Instead of waiting for people to come to us, we decided to go to them. Wearing personal protective equipment (PPE), our healthcare workers went boat to boat, fisherman to fisherman and administered the vaccine, said Dr Wani.
To ensure no one is missed from the vaccination drive, the district administration also educated local shopkeepers about the COVID vaccination and asked them to further impart the knowledge to villagers when they visit their shop and ask for a vaccination certificate.
We have not mandated the certificate for shopping, but we have requested shopkeepers to ask for it. And if someone says, they don’t have it, the shopkeeper can guide them to the nearest vaccination camp, said Dr Wani.
While door-step vaccination might not be practical for urban areas, but Bandipora district may have set an example for other rural areas with low digital literacy and access to information, to follow.
NDTV – Dettol Banega Swasth India campaign is an extension of the five-year-old Banega Swachh India initiative helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. It aims to spread awareness about critical health issues facing the country. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign highlights the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children to prevent maternal and child mortality, fight malnutrition, stunting, wasting, anaemia and disease prevention through vaccines. Importance of programmes like Public Distribution System (PDS), Mid-day Meal Scheme, POSHAN Abhiyan and the role of Aganwadis and ASHA workers are also covered. Only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and become a Swasth or healthy India. The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene.