A day with Tika Express in Bihar tells a worrying story of vaccine hesitancy
A Tika Express comprising auxiliary nurse midwife Suganti Kumari and data operators Gagan Kumar and Santosh Kumar was able to vaccinate only nine persons at Dagarua primary health centre (PHC) in Bihar’s Purnia district on Tuesday, summing up the worrying status of Covid vaccination drive in rural areas of the state. The Tika Express is a mobile van that carries healthcare staff to far flung areas offering free vaccination at site to residents and it was at a Purnia village to vaccinate people aged 45 years and above on Tuesday.
Suganti Kumari and her team were joined by ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activist) Soni Kumari by 10 am at the vaccination camp they had set up at a government school in Dumra, where some village farmers were harvesting paddy.
An hour later, one Gurudev Vishwas came to get vaccinated but was made to wait since at least 10 recipients were needed to ensure a vial of vaccine, once opened, doesn’t go to waste. The vaccination team and the local ward member, Mustaque Alam, stepped out to find willing recipients, but came back empty handed an hour later.
While refusing to be vaccinated, a villager told the team, “Even if the DM (district magistrate) comes here, we won’t get vaccinated. We are ready to die of Covid but not of the vaccine.”
50-year-old Md Mohsin, a villager, said the vaccination drive was part of a “deep-rooted conspiracy”. Another co-villager alleged that the “conspiracy” was to make people “sterile”. He even taunted the ANM and the team before leaving.
Till 4 pm, only nine people took jabs. But Suganti Kumari was happy. “We are ahead by one number today compared to yesterday, when only eight people took the vaccine at Dubaili village.” She also thanked God for saving her and the team from the taunts and humiliation and left for Dagarua PHC to report.
This is the everyday reality of the vaccination drive in Bihar’s rural areas.
Purnia district magistrate (DM) Rahul Kumar tweeted to express his disappointment. “Our ground forces are working tirelessly to reach far-flung areas. It is disheartening to see some rumours going around about vaccination. I request all those who are reading this to educate at least 20 people about the importance of the vaccine. Don’t fall prey to misinformation,” the DM tweeted.
Purnia civil surgeon Dr S K Verma said they were seeking help from religious leaders and other opinion makers in the society to convince people for vaccination.
Block health manager (BHM), Dagarua, Shivendra Kumar says the Tika Exprss was way behind its original target. “The target was to get 200 people vaccinated through Tika Express. However, now it is reduced to just 100. We do our best, but we can’t force people to get vaccinated.” He also did not rule out wastage of vaccines in the process.
The Tika Express initiative, launched on May 25 in the Purnia district, has only managed to give out 1,594 jabs, including 1,579 jabs of the first dose and 15 of the second. That too, when there are as many as 14 vaccination vans in the district.
Till June 1, as per Bihar health department, 10,490,522 persons have been administered both doses of the Covid vaccine.