Shillong: In Meghalaya, 10,95,389 have taken the first dose of the anti-COVID-19 vaccine, while 5,99,876 people have been vaccinated with the second dose. What is presenting itself as a concerning situation, however, is the fact that approximately 2 lakh people in the state are now overdue for their second dose but are not taking it.
Meghalaya Joint Secretary (Health) & Director of the National Health Mission (NHM) Ram Kumar said people in Meghalaya took vaccination seriously in the months of May, June and July, when the state, like the rest of the country, was dealing with a devastating second wave of COVID-19.
“But when the second wave started waning by the end of August, the vaccination numbers also went down. We have one more problem in terms of vaccination. Those who happily took the first dose are not taking the second dose,” Kumar told EastMojo.
Meghalaya’s vaccine hesitancy, however, is not new. Dr Aman Warr, Director of Health Services (DHS), said that prior to the pandemic, the health department faced similar challenges with immunisation for children. The department has to organise health camps and talks to deal with the challenge each time.
“The vaccine has just come out this year. It will take time and it will depend on how the health department convinces those hesitant to take the shot. We can’t do it by forcing or coaxing them, but through enlightenment as per the knowledge and data available,” Dr Warr told EastMojo.
Fr. Richard Majaw, Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Shillong, wasn’t sure if vaccine hesitancy in Meghalaya was related to religious beliefs of the people. While the Church has encouraged people to take the vaccine, it has not forced anyone, he told EastMojo.
“The stand of the church is very clear. We encourage people to take the vaccine and tell them not to relate the COVID-19 vaccination with the Book of Revelation, since it has nothing to do with it. People should take the vaccine for their own safety,” Fr. Majaw said.
He added that the Catholic Church in Meghalaya has vehemently encouraged everyone to take the vaccine. “I cannot comment on other faiths, but only for the Catholics,” Fr. Majaw said.
Why are people not turning up for the 2nd dose?
DHS director Dr Warr said people in Meghalaya need reassurance on why they must take the vaccine.
“That is what the health workers are doing across the state – trying to reassure people. There are certain pockets in the state that have shown complete refusal to the vaccine. It is mandatory for us to go to such areas and enlighten people about the benefits of the vaccine,” Dr. Warr said.
According to Meghalaya NHM Director Ram Kumar, there are multiple reasons behind people’s hesitancy in taking the second dose.
“One reason is that there is a lot of procrastination among those who have taken the first dose, saying that they will take it later. There are others who are not aware about their due date,” said Kumar.
The other reason, the department suspects, is related to the minor side-effects from the first dose vaccine. “Those who got fever after the first dose don’t want to go through that again. There are others who may have contracted Covid or other medical issues,” the director said.
To tide over the concerning situation, the Meghalaya NHM has been making close to 3,000 calls each day to remind people of their second dose. The department, till date, has made more than 1 lakh phone calls to people who are overdue for vaccination, asking them for reasons.
“On October 25, 2,946 calls were attempted, of which 1,439 were completed while the other 1,438 were unreachable calls. Out of the completed calls made, 13 disagreed to take their second dose,” Kumar told EastMojo.
There are many that have provided wrong phone numbers to the department, adding to the challenges.
What happens if you don’t take the 2nd dose?
The Mission director said the situation is concerning, as at least 2 lakh people in Meghalaya are overdue for the second dose but aren’t coming forward to take it.
“This is very concerning. We have told the district administration to make micro plans to ensure that people come forward for the second dose,” said Kumar.
He urged all of those who are yet to take their vaccines and also those overdue for the second dose to come forward.
“People who have taken their first dose must come and take their second dose because the protection from the second is twice or more than the first dose protection,” said Kumar.
Dr Warr, DHS director, said not taking the second dose will not provide full coverage against COVID-19.
“It is necessary that people come out and take the second dose and if they have any doubts they can always consult us since we’re here to clarify,” said Dr Warr.
What if you have crossed the 12-week window to take the second dose? The health department still wants you to come forward and take it.
“Scientifically, 12 weeks has been given as the gap between two doses. But people can just walk into any Covid center and give their phone numbers and their details will already be available,” Kumar said.
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