Rashid Paul

As COVID-19 cases continue to spike, experts bemoan vaccine hesitancy in Kashmir

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Srinagar: As younger people are alarmingly falling prey to new Covid-19 wave in Kashmir, only 1.67 percent of the population here has been covered so far under the official anti-Covid vaccination programme.

The vaccination programme was launched across India, the world’s largest, on 16th of January 2021, with medicos and healthcare workers in Kashmir getting over 4,000 doses.

Astra Zeneca’s viral vector vaccine, marketed as Covishield, is being administered all around the region. So far 4,53,809 doses of the vaccine have been given health workers, frontline workers defense personnel, elderly and middle-aged civilians with comorbidites.

Since an individual is required to receive two doses of the vaccine, around two lakh people including medicos, frontline workers and others have been covered under the vaccination programme in Kashmir, sources in the J&K’s Directorate of Family Welfare MCH & Immunization said.

An official said the actual local Kashmiri population that have benefitted from the vaccine is very less. The region has a projected population of 8.3 million and only a small fraction of its actual population have been administered the vaccine so far, he added.

A senior doctor in the union territory’s Health department confided that a genuine information, education and communication campaign about the vaccination is missing. A number of myths and untruths are surrounding the issue, he said.

The local population, he said, is keeping away from vaccination with some even saying that the vaccine has been extracted from cow urine.

A senior paramedic at District Hospital Budgam wishing obscurity of his identity said “even doctors at the hospital hesitated to take the vaccine on the pretext that it was being manufactured in India and lacked credibility”.

Meanwhile the government has started a pressure strategy to make its employees fall in line.

“We have directed our drawing and disbursing authorities to withhold salaries of doctors and parmamedics who refuse to take the vaccine,” admitted an officer in the Health department.

Expressing his anguish at the alarming rise in Covid-19 infections and morbidities in Kashmir, Prof Khurshid Ahmad, a senior faculty at the Government Medical College Srinagar urged the government to make the vaccine abundantly available for the people.

“Young people in Kashmir are alarmingly coming under the attack of the virus in Kashmir and our hospitals are occupied to their capacity,” Prof Khurshd said.

He said many misapprehensions and absurd things have been associated with the vaccine administration. “They are all unfounded. People should cooperate and avail the vaccine at the hospitals.”

Director Family Welfare MCH & Immunization, Dr Masrat Shah said that a free of cost vaccine is being made available to people across the entire province.

She informed that 40,211 health-care workers have been vaccinated since 16th of January besides 1,32,994 doses have been given to front-line workers since 4th February.

In addition I,24, 9655 doses of the vaccine have been given to the high-risk population groups above 45 years of age with comorbid conditions since 1st of March.

No adverse event followed the immunization, she claimed.

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