On Friday, when India reported a dip in fresh Covid-19 cases to 3.2 lakhs, there was some good news from the US and also from the vaccination front. 3,26,332 new cases were reported during the last 24 hours across India, while the fatalities figure remained high at 3,883. There appears to be a steady decline in fresh cases but it is difficult to predict when the numbers would dip at a steep angle.
State-wise, Karnataka has now overtaken Maharashtra. On Friday, Karnataka reported 41,779 new cases and 373 deaths, Maharashtra was second with 39,923 cases and 695 deaths, Kerala was third with 34,694 cases and 93 deaths, Tamil Nadu fourth with 31,892 cases and 288 deaths, and Andhra Pradesh fifth with 22,018 new cases and 96 deaths. It appears as if the pandemic second wave is lashing most parts of South India.
In the East, West Bengal leads with 20,846 new cases and 136 deaths, while the figures are dropping in Uttar Pradesh, which reported 15,747 new cases and 312 deaths. Rajasthan reported 14,289 new cases and 155 deaths, while Haryana reported 10,608 new cases and 164 deaths. These figures indicate that the second wave is showing a slight decline, but the risks remain. Delhi reported 8,506 new cases and 289 deaths on Friday. For the first time in over a month, the national capital has recorded less than 10,000 Covid cases in a day.
US President Joe Biden described it as a “great day for America” when he announced from the White House that “fully vaccinated” Americans are now allowed not to wear masks in public places and in most outdoor settings. Biden himself along with his team including US Vice President Kamala Harris appeared without masks for the first time since the pandemic broke. Biden referred to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s latest guidelines, which say, anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities, large or small, without wearing a mask or physically distancing. The guidelines still call for wearing masks in crowded places like buses, planes, hospitals, prisons and homeless shelters, but removing the need for social distancing for those who are fully vaccinated.
This success was achieved because of an aggressive vaccination campaign which paid off. 10.5 crore out of America’s total 33 crore population is now fully vaccinated. They have already developed antibodies and herd immunity is also gradually becoming possible. The US FDA has now allowed Pfizer, Moderna vaccination for children above the age of 12 years. This means, the path for reopening offices, workplaces and schools will now be open for all “fully vaccinated” Americans. Covid cases in the US are at the lowest since September, deaths are at their lowest since April and the test positivity rate is at its lowest since the pandemic began. That is why the US has allowed all vaccinated Americans not to wear masks and keep physical distance. Despite being a superpower, the US had recorded 3.3 crore Covid-19 cases and nearly 6 lakh deaths due to the pandemic. The situation has now completely changed for the better.
The US had started its vaccination program on December 14 last year and in a span of six months, it used more than 20 crore vaccine doses to fully vaccinate 10.5 crore Indians. Vaccination began in India on January 16 and in the last four months, we administered 18 crore doses. This figure is too small compared to our 137 crore population. To achieve herd immunity, India requires 140 vaccine doses to ‘fully vaccinate’ nearly 70 crore Indians. This is really a tall order. The Centre claims it will make 216 crore doses available by December. Even if the government pulls out all stops to boost manufacture and procurement of vaccine doses, nobody can say with certainty when we will attain our objective.
This is because of widely prevalent scepticism about vaccines among a large section of Indians, even among literate, well-read people, which include many of our doctors and healthcare workers. There are many people in India who still say openly that the Corona vaccine is a ‘death vaccine’. They say, it is a “government conspiracy” to eliminate people. In several places of Bihar, villagers have thrashed health workers who went to vaccinate people. I was shocked when I saw the visuals. On one hand, people are dying of Covid-19 in large numbers and on the other hand, people are unwilling to take the vaccine.
I asked my reporters in Rajasthan, Delhi and Bihar to find out what common semi-literate or illiterate people living in villages and city slums think about Covid vaccines. The feedback that they got from common people about vaccines, and which I showed in my prime time show ‘Aaj Ki Baat’ on Friday night was shocking.
In Kesarpura village, 14 km from Rajasthan’s Ajmer city, 15 people died of Covid during the last ten days. In this village of 1,300 residents, the state government sent a team with vaccine stocks, but not a single villager took the vaccine. Only one person, and that too, a health worker, took the jab. In adjoining Lahri village too, most of the villagers refused to get themselves vaccinated. A baseless rumour was spread in these villages that anybody who takes the vaccine, may die. Only 5 lakh doses were administered in a well-populated district like Ajmer.
We sent our reporter Bhaskar Mishra to Yamuna Khadar slums near Akshardham in east Delhi to speak to slum dwellers. Most of them said they have heard people falling sick after taking the vaccine and that is why they did not take the dose. Some of them said labourers do not get infected with the virus, and that only those who live and work in air-conditioned rooms get the virus.
In Afzal Nagar village of Munger district, Bihar, there were 10 Covid-related deaths in the past two weeks. Our reporter said, there were still more than a hundred villagers who have symptoms of fever and cough, but not a single one of them took the RT-PCR test nor showed any interest in vaccines. In neighbouring Khudia village having nearly 10,000 residents, a Covid vaccination and detection camp was held a week ago. The health workers consistently pleaded with villagers to take the vaccine, but none agreed. There were some villagers who said, if they take the dose, the skin would fall off from their body and they may die.
Not only semi-literate villagers, but well-read people are also trying to avoid taking the vaccine. When India launched its vaccination drive for health workers, only 37 per cent of them came forward to take the vaccine, and that too, in a span of four months. Cent per cent vaccination is yet to be achieved among India’s health workers. I personally know some doctors who are yet to complete their double dose. Even a university vice-chancellor I personally know, had a wait-and-watch attitude. Our political leaders added grist to the mill. Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav described Covid vaccine as a ‘BJP vaccine’. Some Congress chief ministers described it as ‘Modi vaccine’. They were questioning the efficacy of these vaccines. But after the second wave of pandemic brought thousands of deaths in its wake, most of the leaders have now changed their views. They are now clamouring for an urgent supply of Covid vaccines.
Our vaccination campaign can be a success only when people, on their own, come forward to take the doses. If people start stoning vaccination workers and demand a ‘guarantee’ in writing that they will not fall prey to Covid, then how can the government help? More than 5 lakh people took vaccine doses in Ajmer district, and yet none of them died, but people are still spreading rumours saying people are drying after taking the vaccine. In Muslim-populated villages, baseless rumours are being spread about their community being targeted in the name of vaccination. The worrying part is that villagers continue to believe in such baseless rumours that are being spread through word of mouth, WhatsApp, YouTube and Facebook social media platforms.
Those who still have doubts about Covid vaccines should look towards the American example. America topped the world’s chart for more than a year as far as Covid cases and the number of deaths were concerned. They seriously took up the vaccination challenge, and now they have come to a stage where they have asked their people not to wear a mask and maintain physical distancing.
I appeal to all right-thinking Indians to spread awareness about Covid vaccines among people and dispel all baseless rumours. If America can succeed in taking up the vaccination challenge, India can too. Until and unless Indians come to vaccination centres voluntarily, no government can force them to take vaccines. The sooner we achieve our objective of vaccinating 70 crore Indians with both doses, we will not be able to defeat the devil. Let us all work wholeheartedly towards achieving that objective. At least, on vaccination issue, leave aside all political, personal or religious grudges. Go out and get yourself vaccinated.
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India's Number One and the most followed Super Prime Time News Show 'Aaj Ki Baat – Rajat Sharma Ke Saath' was launched just before the 2014 General Elections. Since its inception, the show is redefining India's super-prime time and is numerically far ahead of its contemporaries.