A man receives a Bharat Biotech's COVID-19 vaccine called COVAXIN, at a vaccination centre(REUTERS/File Photo)
A man receives a Bharat Biotech's COVID-19 vaccine called COVAXIN, at a vaccination centre(REUTERS/File Photo)

Karnataka looks to allay hesitancy as vaccination numbers stay low

  • Experts say fears over complication after vaccine jab is main cause of low turnout in Karnataka which has vaccinated around 57% of its target
By Sharan Poovanna, Hindustan Times, Bengaluru
UPDATED ON FEB 20, 2021 10:53 AM IST

The Karnataka government on Friday said that it has written to the Centre, seeking approval to inoculate at least 1,000 influential people like religious leaders, film actors, sports personalities, jurists and eminent journalists to mitigate the poor response to the Covid-19 vaccination drive in Bengaluru.

The state government hopes that the measures, if approved, would help allay fears around the vaccination drive and encourage more to come forward in a state that has so far achieved around 57% of its target.

“We are roping in some social influencers and people who can motivate. I have written to the Union government to allow us to inoculate around 1,000 people who can be influencers from various walks of life. These include people such as religious pontiffs, sports personalities, film stars, eminent jurists and also influential journalists,” Dr K Sudhakar, state’s minister for health and family welfare and medical education, told Hindustan Times.

“I hope we will receive a favourable response,” he added, without naming any of the public figures that are likely to be roped in for the plan.

The vaccination situation is particularly alarming in the state capital where the (first dose) coverage for healthcare workers is 36% and frontline workers is 24%, government data revealed. In fact, the coverage is the lowest in the state and when compared to 63.5% in Delhi and 70% in Mumbai.

Out of 354,527 people authorities set as target for vaccination in the first dose, Bengaluru has inoculated only 117,985 of them. A total of 8,052 people have so far received the second dose of vaccination in the city, the data mentioned.

In comparison, Gadag, about 387 km from Bengaluru, has managed to cover 83% of its population.

A total of 626,752 people have taken the first and second dose of vaccine across the state as against a target of 1,106,889 people.

The poor turnout in Karnataka is mainly due to fears of developing complications after vaccination
The poor turnout in Karnataka is mainly due to fears of developing complications after vaccination

The measures come as part of the strategy to increase vaccination coverage across Karnataka and Bengaluru, where responses have so far been poor overall over fears of developing complications.

The Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), the city’s civic body which is in-charge of the drive, has made all efforts to convince workers and even threatened to end free treatment if those in the list continued to evade the inoculation drive, but to little effect. “BBMP is not proactively involved and will be meeting them tomorrow (Saturday). There are some districts that are performing very well and some districts are below 25-30%. The collective responsibility should be on the district administration,” Sudhakar said.

While Bengaluru, the state’s growth engine, had gone into lockdown much before the other states, restrictions here were also lifted sooner than elsewhere. Karnataka chief minister B S Yediyurappa, who had tested positive for the virus last year, had decided to lift the curbs to bring in revenues for the cash-starved state.

“There are some reasons (for poor turnout) like apprehensions over the vaccine and misconceptions such as the beneficiaries cannot consume alcohol after vaccination. For many others, it is time constraints of not being available to take the dose among other reasons,” N Manjunath Prasad, the BBMP commissioner, said.

He also said that there have been instructions that the government will not bear any Covid-19-related expenses for those who refuse to take the vaccine.

Home to hundreds of large corporations, Bengaluru, like other large cities in the country, has encouraged companies to extend the work from home (WFH) policy to keep the crowd away from public space.

However, politicians, irrespective of their parties, carried on with their large political rallies, weddings and other events, undeterred.

Approximately 18 people developed serious complications after receiving the shot across the state, including at least three fatalities, according to government data.

Ever since the first case was reported in Bengaluru on 8 March last year, there have been 403,236 cases so far, of which 394,583 have been cured.

Bengaluru reported 209 cases on Friday out of the total 386 across the state. Four more people died in the city that accounts for 4,445 fatalities out of the total 12,287 across the state.

Karnataka was one of the worst Covid-19 impacted states the whole of last year but later saw a drop in cases. But the fight against pandemic has been stymied in the vaccination drive over hesitancy and spread of false information, Sudhakar said. The state government has held meetings with district administrations to seek reasons for the low turnout and ways to overcome them, officials said.

The state government has put in place measures to closely monitor people coming in from Kerala and Maharashtra among other places. Dr. R Ravindra from Bengaluru-based Suguna Hospital said technical glitches with the CoWIN app, launched by the government for the vaccination drive, has been a major reason behind inaccurate reports on coverage than reluctance. “This app (Covin) is not working properly. The names of a lot of people who took the first dose are not showing up as vaccinated and the (city) corporation has asked us not to administer the second dose to such people,” he said.

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