Ground-level healthcare workers combat vaccination hesitancy, virus infection in Odisha’s tribal pockets

Covid vaccination, Covid-19, National Covid vaccination programme

The ground-level health workers in Odisha are contending with the vaccination hesitancy in remotest tribal pockets of the State with disturbing reports of people fleeing the villages to dodge the COVID-19 vaccination trickling in some parts of the State.

Rumours that vaccines can cause impotency and even could lead to death have gone overdrive. Both the virus infection and misinformation are on ascendancy. The healthcare workers are beginning to experience the pinch of obstinate villagers’ hesitancy to get inoculated, said a physician of a government-run hospital in Chhattisgarh-bordering Nuapada district.

“We are having tough and trying times. After trekking miles in hilly and inaccessible tracts, the health workers are returning empty handed in tribal villages. The very sight of healthcare workers frightens them as misconception on vaccines has taken firm grip in some of the tribal villages”, said Medical Officer of Kolnara Community Health Centre (CHC) Dr G Sailaja.

We faced a piquant situation in Champakana village as the villagers fled from their homes after our arrival. The medical personnel waited for hours with utmost patience. But they did not turn up. We have decided to sensitize them and make them believe that “we want to save them, not kill them”. We will involve the panchayat members in the awareness campaign on vaccination, she added.

The inaccessible terrains in Sunabeda plateau in Nuapada district, inhabited by Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group (PVTG) Chuktia Bhunjia settlers are also witnessing similar vaccine hesitancy predicament.

To break the chain of infection has become an uphill task as the tribal settlers are unyielding to adhere to COVID appropriate behavior. None of the 3,000 settlers could be administered COVID vaccine so far despite our best efforts, Chuktia Bhunjia Development Agency, Buddhadeb Panda.

The Dongria Kondhs, another PVTG living in steep Niyamgiri hills of Rayagada district, have increasingly come under COVID infections with 136 of them contracting the disease so far at an alarming 36% test positivity rate. However the silver lining amid pandemic surge in Niyamgiri lies in the fact that the Rayagada district administration has managed to vaccinate 834 of the 10,000 Dongria Kondh who live in 98 villages in Rayagada district.

The Bondas, another PVTG that lives in Bonda Hills, 3,500 ft above sea level, in Malkangiri district, have come under the grip of COVID-19 infection with 12 Bondas contracting the disease so far. The administration got the better of vaccine hesitancy and vaccinated around 1,000 Bondas after a month of long counseling and sensitization programme, said officials adding that 7,000 PVTGs excepting Chuktia Bhunjia in Nuapada have far been administered with first dose of COVID-19 vaccine.

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