NEW DELHI: Several states and cities launched an awareness blitz on Wednesday to inject confidence in healthcare workers about Covid-19 vaccines and drive up turnouts, which have been lower than expected at inoculation centres, and particularly low in some, since the first phase of the immunisation campaign began on January 16.
Increasingly, vaccine recipients are being drafted in to help counter hesitancy as counselling becomes the most important tool in efforts to meet targets in the first phase. Vaccinated healthcare workers in Delhi, where the turnout has been below 50% for the last two days, have been asked to make videos in which they talk about their health after receiving the shots. Recipients are also calling those who remain reluctant to share their experience and updates on their health. In Gurgaon, private hospitals, which are conducting most vaccinations, have deployed senior doctors to convince healthcare workers to take the jab.
In Punjab, which is among states with the lowest vaccination coverage so far, the state government has started reaching out to recipients to persuade them. Punjab Covid nodal officer, Dr Rajesh Bhaskar, said a dedicated team was set up to call and encourage recipients to get their doses. Dr Bhaskar said senior health department officials have started taking the shot to allay concerns, and he would himself get inoculated on Thursday. In the first three days of the drive, only 5,561 have received the first dose while it aims to immunise 1.74 lakh health workers in the first phase.
In Maharashtra, where low turnouts have also been a concern, health minister Rajesh Tope said the government will reach out to all 8 lakh healthcare workers registered to be vaccinated through awareness campaigns even as allowing walk-ins appeared to have had a positive impact on turnouts. The numbers from rural Maharashtra on Wednesday were encouraging, and by 7pm, the state had reached 68% of the target set for the day. This was higher than the 65% it achieved on Day 1 of the drive. Two districts, Amravati and Hingoli, had over 100% turnout.
Mumbai saw 52% turnout, but a large chunk were “walk-ins” as Co-WIN-generated text messages didn’t seem to have reached the targeted beneficiaries.
Health authorities said they expected coverage to increase as word about the safety of the vaccines spreads and apprehensions about side-effects are dispelled. The relentless counselling efforts showed encouraging results. Dhananjay Thakur (33), a healthcare support staff at Columbia Asia Hospital in Gurgaon, said he took the vaccine after being counselled by doctors. Thakur said he was worried he would fall sick after vaccination. “When I told the vaccination officer I wasn’t sure, she called some senior doctors and asked them to talk to me. I spoke to them for 30 minutes and took the shot,” he said. Thakur has since been counselling others to do the same.