Written by Ashish Kumar Singh & Wakar Amin
India consists of a population with different sets of profiles of socio-culturally diverse identities scattered within it. Any vaccination program which is aimed at covering the whole population has to use a diverse and heterogeneous strategy like the population of the country. Not to mention the fact that the enormous size of population requires a large vaccination campaign. Though the government started a vaccination program throughout the country, but the pace has been slow. It happened due to various reasons. The vaccination program that was started in India did not pick up mainly due to the lack of vaccines coupled with a strong sense of vaccine hesitancy among the population. This hesitancy was associated with socio-cultural differences, notable among them being religion. There are evidences suggesting that various communities have shown resistance to previous public health initiatives in the country. Given the background, we have written this paper based on a pilot study conducted by authors in Jammu & Kashmir and Uttar Pradesh. We do not claim that this study is an in any way a representative study but it does help us understand various aspects which in one way or the other become a big hurdle in a mass vaccination program. It is aimed at identifying the reasons as to why people in both the states are hesitant to take a vaccine. The study is based on data collected from 95 respondents from two regions viz, Jammu and Kashmir and Uttar Pradesh. The sample for the study is drawn using snowball sampling method through online questionnaire. Due to social distancing measures, we decided to limit ourselves to online sampling. The study was conducted in the past two weeks. Firstly, we present the objectives of the study, followed by the distribution and profile of the respondents. Then we present the findings before providing some suggestions in the conclusion.
The study aimed at three main objectives: 1) To explore the reasons for vaccine hesitancy among young population, 2) To suggest strategies for effective vaccination strategies in light of the reasons for hesitancy; and 3) To identify a correlation between religion and gender with vaccine hesitancy.
Fig. 1.1: Geographic distribution of respondents in UP
Fig. 1.2: Geographic distribution of respondents in J&K
Findings: This study clearly reflects that nearly half of the respondents were critical of government strategies.
Fig. 3: Answer to the question: “Is the central government doing enough?”
A large number of respondents knew about the vaccines available in India. Majority of the respondents got information about vaccine through social media. None of the respondents especially females highlighted the issue of infertility to be associated with vaccination, however we did hear about it in casual conversations. There were differences in public opinion about effects of vaccines in UP and J&K, based on the level of education and religious profiles.
A large number of respondents (36.4%) preferred to get vaccines later, whereas 28.8% said that the reason for not getting vaccinated is not non-availability of vaccines in their areas.
Fig. 4: Reasons for not getting vaccinated
Historical evidences suggest that resistance to vaccination drives has been happening around the globe. The present study in its effort to explore the various aspects of vaccine taking behaviour found that despite all the participants being educated with most of them being post-graduates, the information regarding the names of vaccines available in India was inadequate. Another important finding of our study is with regards to the taking of vaccine. It was found that majority of our female respondents have not taken the vaccines. This is reflective of the apprehension which may be prevailing in the community, though those apprehensions were not talked about by the respondents.
Similarly, when asked about see the ways through which people can be encouraged to take vaccines, it was found that generating awareness and removing misinformation through mass awareness campaigns can be beneficial.
Almost 70 percent respondents were satisfied with government effort. Similarly, when it comes to the suggestions for increasing the number of people taking vaccines, it was found that the respondents provided a number of suggestions like,
- More and more vaccines should be made available for people. Stress should be given to the issue of patents. More and more company should be asked to remove the latent clause, so that Indian and pharmaceutical companies around the world are able to manufacture this vaccine.
- A strategy which involves public and private model working in collaboration with each other.
- Awareness generation and community involvement in vaccination program.
- Involvement of PRI and Zila Parishad members.
- Vaccine registration should be made simpler, so that people without internet connection can easily get vaccines.
- There should not be any differences between the information provided by the health workers throughout the country.
- People should have clear information about first and second doses: when and how to get it. Both should be made available in the vicinity.
- A door to door vaccination program should be initiated;
- Vaccines should be made available to all age groups; and
- The government must control the spread of misinformation about vaccines.
The research further reflects on the issue of source of information regarding the vaccines. It was found that majority of respondents have no clear idea as to from where they came to know about the vaccine or the vaccination process in India.
(Ashish Kumar Singh is a doctoral candidate of Political Science at the National Research University Higher School of Economics, Moscow, Russia.
Wakar Amin, Ph.D., is assistant professor of social work at the University of Kashmir, Srinagar, India.
Authors thank Umang Srivastava and Shivam Verma for their help in data collection.)