Almost all tribals in Tamil Nadu’s Nilgiris vaccinated for Covid
Of the population of 21,435 tribals eligible for the vaccine, 21,103 were partially or fully vaccinated by Wednesday evening. The majority have received one dose with only 850 receiving both doses.
Tamil Nadu’s mountainous Nilgiris district on Wednesday achieved 100% vaccination of its tribals overcoming several challenges, including accessing the remote locations to convincing the local population which was initially hesitant about being vaccinated.
Of the population of 21,435 tribals eligible for the vaccine, 21,103 were partially or fully vaccinated by Wednesday evening. The majority have received one dose with only 850 receiving both doses. The remaining were young mothers, those with contraindications and around 40 people who stubbornly continue to refuse the vaccine.
The district’s officials and healthcare workers first had to convince the tribals that the vaccine would not cause them any harm. The two primary reasons for hesitancy among the tribals was that they believed that they would die a few months after taking the vaccine and that it would cause impotency in men. “We had to dispel these two rumours first which spread through fake news and WhatsApp forwards,” said Nilgiris district collector J Innocent Divya.
Around mid-May, when the second wave was at its peak and the tribals began to get infected, the officials brought together members of a Scheduled Tribes council, doctors, and NGOs who have been working with the six particularly vulnerable tribal groups. “Their numbers are decreasing in every census that is conducted so we were focussed on protecting them and ensuring that there was no death,” said Divya. “They have a general hesitation to go to a hospital. They don’t take RT-PCR tests for fear of testing positive and being taken to hospitals, so we got doctors to address them and we used ourselves as examples to demonstrate that we are all vaccinated.”
The tribal leaders were convinced to get vaccinated first so that the rest could follow. The NGOs drafted locals from the community to create songs in their native tribal languages that extolled the benefits of the vaccines. Doctors’ advice not to consume alcohol post vaccination was also a dampener.
The logistics were also a challenge. It was an arduous task for healthcare workers to reach these families. Some had to walk for hours through dense forests to reach tribal hamlets. All vaccines had to be administered between 8am or 6 pm as the tribals were out foraging or working during the day. That meant having forest officials accompany healthcare workers at night.
And the whole process also had to be planned so as to optimise usage of vaccines, said Diyva. “On the first day, a team would go to convince a particular population and only on the next day would they carry out the vaccinations. In some places there were only a few tribals so we would transport them to a common location so that we did not waste any doses.” The district has 37 primary healthcare centres and 30 of those were attached to tribal areas.
The team also combined welfare measures with vaccinations, supplying groceries and dry ration to the tribals. Health minister M Subramanian inspected the district on June 6. “By then we had covered about 40% of the tribal population and when he saw our work, the state began specifically allocating vaccines for tribals, so the inoculation drive picked up aggressively,” said Divya.
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