Battling myths, fears to overcome vaccine hesitancy in India

By Sarwar Kashani |

Srinagar, India, May 4 (EFE).- After battling needle-phobia and ignoring many vaccination myths, a fearful Shumaila Firdous sat in a chair with Islamic devotional songs blaring on her headphones.

She squeezed her eyes tight as a nurse came with a cotton swab and a 0.5 ml AD syringe at a community hall-turned-immunization center in Kashmir as India reels under a devastating second wave of the coronavirus.

She lifted her sleeve, and turned away with her eyes shut. There was a quick prick, and Firdous, 22, raised her fist in the air, shouting, “Yes.”

She had not only conquered the fear of the needle but also brushed aside many apprehensions about vaccination side-effects.

“First there was no needle meltdown. I have always been overwhelmed by needle-phobia,” Firdous told EFE at the immunization center in Srinagar, the main city in India-administered-Kashmir.

There are dozens of myths circulated on social media about inoculation, triggering vaccine hesitancy not only in the Muslim-majority region of Kashmir but across India amid a global push for herd immunity against Covid-19.

“The scariest of all the myths is that vaccination may lead to infertility,” said the woman, who is planning to get married next year.

“And then, there was also this rumor that getting inoculated during menstruation was also not safe. I was also told that covid vaccines could also lead to heart attacks.”

She said she did some reading about these apprehensions and found the myths were baseless.

“I took some time to convince my parents and other family members that the vaccines are safe and the only way to prevent yourself from getting the virus, prevent yourself from spreading the virus.”

Firdous, like all others, was kept in an observation room for any immediate side effects before she confidently walked out of the center, located in a densely-populated neighborhood.

The doctor overseeing the immunization process told them that they could take paracetamol tablets if they developed fever, cold or body ache.

On a Ramadan morning, there was a thin crowd at the center where Firdous got herself inoculated, but as the day progressed, people came in droves to receive their jabs.

Nearly 300 people, all below 45, were immunized at the center Tuesday, the second day when Kashmir, like many parts of India, began vaccinating 18 to 44-year-olds after the start of the third phase of the world’s largest Covid-19 immunization drive.

Rubeena, one of the nurses at the center, said most people in Kashmir had overcome the hesitancy and were now coming forward to get vaccinated.

“Initially, we literally had to plead before the people to get vaccinated. Now people are coming forth, particularly after the devastating second wave,” the nurse told EFE.

The country began its vaccination drive for frontline and healthcare workers on Jan.16, and has inoculated nearly 160 million people with either one of its two vaccines – Oxford-AstraZeneca’s Covishield, manufactured by Serum Institute of India, and the indigenous Covaxin.

According to the federal health ministry data, more than 406,000 beneficiaries in the 18-44 age group have been vaccinated under phase-3 of the drive.

Of these, nearly 6,000 were from Kashmir, which remains in the headlines for its decades-long armed rebellion against Indian rule.

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