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OUR COVID-19 RESPONSE UPDATES

Fighting misconceptions to promote COVID vaccination uptake in Rayagada district

Story

By Tazeen Qureshy

23 June 2021

Gram Vikas staff are organising awareness meetings to tackle vaccine hesitancy.

Residents of Bunding village take vaccine at the Kulusingi Primary Health Centre

Photograph by Sudhanshu Sekhar Rath

Gram Vikas staff led by Sudhanshu Sekhar was met with stiff resistance when he visited Buyalkui village in Gunupur block of Rayagada district for a vaccination drive. The usually affable Aliajar Mandal, Secretary of the Village Development Committee, was skeptical about the vaccination and did not support the vaccination drive. Our staff were all ears to his fears and anxieties and addressed all his concerns.

“We have heard people are falling sick after taking the vaccine. It is the business season for us, and we sell mangoes and jackfruit to wholesalers. So, we have decided not to take the vaccine,” Aliajar had told our staff during the first meeting on 28 May. Fake videos on WhatsApp spreading misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine and its side effects compounded vaccine hesitancy amongst the village residents.

To tackle the spread of misinformation, our staff decided to hold a meeting after the Sunday mass at the Church. During the meeting, Sudhanshu explained the efficacy of the vaccine and cleared the misinformation around it. Aliajar and others in the village got convinced about the importance of vaccination and felt reassured about its safety. They agreed to take the vaccine.

On 2 June, the health worker from the Kulusingi Primary Health Center (PHC) administered vaccines to 18 persons above 44 years in the village.

Harnessing the support of community influencers

Similarly, in Bunding village in the same block, continuous counselling by the health workers convinced the residents to take the vaccine. Initially, they had refused to meet the health workers during the door-to-door surveillance. It soon changed after a meeting organised by the Gram Vikas staff at the village square. Discussions with the members of the Village Development Committee and their support convinced the village residents. People started registering for the drive. So far, 40 persons above the age of 44 years have taken the vaccine.

In Gudi village, Gram Vikas took the support of the Kulusingi PHC Medical Officer, Dr. Niranjan Raita, to convince the village residents to take the vaccine. Dr. Niranjan, from the Lanjia Saura Adivasi community, from the Gajapati district, spoke to the community in the local Saura dialect. He informed them about the importance of getting vaccinated and the symptoms of COVID-19. He also encouraged the residents to get themselves checked during door-to-door surveillance carried out by health workers.

A few weeks earlier, Gram Vikas’ mobile information vans had travelled through these villages relaying audio messages on the importance of COVID protocols and vaccination.

COVID Care in Remote Villages

Gram Vikas evolved a multi-pronged COVID-19 response programme to support communities to cope with interlinked threats to health, livelihoods, food, education, and mental health due to the pandemic. Our response on the ground in the past year helped us identify large numbers of village volunteers.

Many of our partner villages are remote, with no access to mobile, television, internet connectivity, and a weak health system. Gram Vikas mobile vans with mounted speakers travel through these habitations playing pre-recorded audio messages on coronavirus prevention measures, including wearing masks, maintaining physical distance, and following proper handwashing practices. We have so far covered 1147 habitations across 10 districts in Odisha.

Only 16% of the population in our partner villages was vaccinated as of May 2021. Doorstep vaccine education by community volunteers mitigates vaccine hesitancy and boosts CoWIN registrations at the village level. They have registered 2853 persons, between 18 to 44 years, in 61 Gram Panchayats for vaccination. We have helped 23 Anganwadi workers evolve a strategy for vaccination drives.

In the five weeks since we started the response to the second wave of the pandemic, we have reached out to 50,000 households and supported local governments and frontline health workers to counter the COVID-19 pandemic in some of the poorest regions of Odisha.

Know the latest on our COVID-19 response programme: https://www.gramvikas.org/response-update/

Pisra Mandal from Bunding village taking the vaccine with the help of a health worker.

Photograph by Sudhanshu Sekhar Rath

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Sudhanshu Sekhar Rath, Chandrika Patnaik supported in data collection. Priya Pillai edited the story.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tazeen Qureshy is Communications Associate in Gram Vikas.

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