Hesitancy, rumours afflict COVID-19 vaccination drive in Odisha’s tribal villages

Healthcare workers have to trek miles and cross springs to reach the villages 

By Hrusikesh Mohanty
Published: Friday 11 June 2021

The healthcare workers of Odisha are faced with an uphill task as the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) makes inroads in the hinterlands: Trekking for miles and crossing springs to vaccinate the tribals.

They have also been grappling with vaccine hesitancy in these areas, which poses a big risk to the unexposed population.

A vaccination team in Rayagada district’s Champakana village June 9 returned without administering a single dose, as all residents fled the village fearing inoculation.

The team had had organised an awareness camp explaining the benefits of vaccination May 7.

“All villagers had fled before we reached the village. We waited for some time at the vaccination centre set up in the village but no one turned up,” said a member of the healthcare team. The village is home to at least 500 people.

Most tribals, especially those belonging to the Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTG), have bought into the rumours on adverse effects of the vaccine, claimed an official.

Health workers trek through the forests to reach the villages in Rayagada district. Photo: Hrusikesh Mohanty 

“We are trying to overcome this challenge. We have hired interpreters to convince them in their language,” said PK Mishra, special officer, Lanjia Soura Development Agency (LSDA), Gajapati. Soura is among the 13 PVTGs in Odisha.

“The officials of the tribal development agency trekked for around four kilometres through the hills to reach the village, said P Arthanari, project director, Odisha PVTG Empowerment and Livelihood Improvement. 

The health team also took a three-hour boat ride to reach the village.

Arthanari said around 40 per cent PVTGs (45 years and above) have been vaccinated so far.  “Their registration was made on spot. In some villages, health workers collect the data and register after returning from remote areas due to lack of Network in hill areas,” he said.

The tribals displayed reluctance even during COVID-19 tests, he added. As many as 160 people from 10 of the 13 PVTGs have been tested for the virus in the second wave of the pandemic in the state.

At least 120 of them have recovered from the infection. No casualty among the PVTG has been reported in the state due to COVID-19, said Arthanari.

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