Pressure groups refuse to play ball on removing vax hesitancy

SHILLONG, May 21: As the menacing second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic is spiralling out of control, the state government’s desperate appeal to the pressure groups, among others, to help overcome the vaccine hesitancy among local residents, is proving to be a nonstarter. All the major youth bodies, which are otherwise potently active on most issues confronting the state, have refused to play ball.
The Shillong Times spoke to the four most influential pressure groups in the state to elicit their stand and response to the government call, only to find that most of them have reservations about efficacy of vaccines.
The response of the Khasi Students’ Union (KSU), the Federation of Khasi, Jaintia and Garo People (FKJGP), the Garo Students’ Union (GSU) and the Jaintia Students’ Union (JSU) had two things in common – firstly, it would be difficult for them to assist the government directly in creating awareness on the vaccine since they had no expertise on the subject; and secondly, the government itself has to go all out to clear doubts in people’s minds about the efficacy of the vaccine and its “side effects”.
KSU president, Lambokstar Marngar observed that people were hesitant in taking the vaccine since they had doubts about the efficacy of the vaccine and were concerned about the side effects. He also expressed the KSU’s inability to assist the government in creating vaccine awareness, saying that they were not experts.
“Many people in the 18 to 44 age group are keen to take the vaccine but have failed to book their slots. The government has to come up with a plan for the rural populace since most of them do not own smartphones. Also, the mobile network is quite bad in the rural parts of the state,” Marngar said.
“I am sure that a number of people will come forward to take the vaccine if the government organises door-to-door campaigns to explain to the people the importance of the vaccine,” he said.
To a specific query on whether KSU members had taken the vaccine, Marngar said some of their members had already taken their first jab, while others were waiting for slots to be made available for the 18-44 group.
Cautioning the citizens to take necessary precautions, Marngar said, “We urge the government not to allow outsiders to enter the state and at the same time adopt a multi-pronged strategy to deal with the COVID-19 situation.”
GSU president, Tengsak G. Momin said, “The governmental machinery is best suited to spread awareness. If circumstances really demand then we are ready to assist the government. But we are not experts to speak about the vaccine,” he said.
Momin also said that meeting people to spread awareness would be a risky proposition at this time and they would have to educate all their members on how to maintain health protocols or take necessary precautions which would take time.
Momin blamed the Centre for the shortage of vaccine in the country since it had initially donated the vaccine to several other nations.
“The second wave has caught India unprepared and now it is facing difficulty in making vaccines available for the 18-44 group. The Centre should at least try to achieve full vaccination in small states like Meghalaya,” Momin said.
Asked about the poor response to the vaccination drive in Meghalaya, Momin pointed that it was due to several factors.
“Misinformation and apprehension is playing a big role in affecting the vaccination drive. The government needs to mobilise the various departments to help in this effort of mass vaccination,” Momin said.
There are also apprehensions among the citizens regarding the mild side effects of the vaccine, he added.
Momin also pointed out that government health centres in Garo Hills were conducting the vaccination drive only thrice per week which could also be responsible for the poor numbers.
He, however, commended the Centre and the state government for giving the vaccine for free in government health care centres.
The GSU president also suggested that RT-PCR and CBNAAT tests should be made free for the low-income groups to encourage more people to come forward for testing.
When asked how many GSU members had taken the vaccine, Momin said, “I am not privy to the exact numbers. But our members have taken the vaccine, at least the first dose. Even my parents have taken their first dose.”
FKJGP president, Wellbirth Rani said citizens at large were not convinced about the efficacy of the vaccine and had doubts about the aftereffects.
“People are also facing problems booking their slots online, especially in the rural areas. The government needs to think about the rural masses and understand their difficulties,” Rani said.
The FKJGP president suggested that the government should involve the local Dorbar Shnong to create awareness about the vaccine.
Asserting the organisation was ready to work with the government during this time of crisis, Rani said, “I urge all citizens to come forward for the vaccination programme. Personally, I am still waiting to book my slot to get my first jab.”
He informed that he has asked all their members to come forward for the vaccination and added that they would provide assistance to those people who are not able to register themselves for the vaccination.
The FKJGP president also suggested that the Dorbar Shnong should be given additional power to make rules for restrictions at the locality level.
Urging the government to involve NGOs or individuals with the requisite knowhow and organise awareness campaigns on a massive scale, Rani said the government should seek the views of medical experts who are competent to give their opinion on how to deal with the second wave of COVID-19.
JSU president, Jersom Shylla lauded the state government for trying its best to deal with the COVID-19 situation in the state and urged citizens to cooperate with the government by following necessary advisories.
“Despite the limited resources the state government is doing its best,” Shylla said.
He asserted that each and every member of the JSU will take the vaccine as and when the slots for the 18-44 group are available.
Making it clear that the only way to defeat the virus is to strictly follow the health protocols and take the vaccine, Shylla said that the state government should go for aggressive campaigns to remove the doubts in the minds of the people about the vaccine.
He was, however, noncommittal on whether the JSU members would come out to create awareness among the masses on the efficacy of the vaccine.

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