“Why are you asking us to get vaccinated? Give us some food,” this was one of the many challenging requests Mahananda Thete, a field worker at Kranti Mahila Sangh (KMS), encountered during one of his visits to the communities in Maharashtra’s Solapur. The difficulty in addressing vaccination hesitancy outweighed all the other challenges brought on by the pandemic as it demands changing people’s perceptions. Field workers like Thete who work with #COVIDActionCollab (CAC) have left no stone unturned to ensure that the benefits of vaccination reach everyone.
For the last 10 years, Thete has been associated with Kranti Mahila Sangh – an organisation working to uplift sex workers and those living with HIV. KMS has worked extensively during the pandemic to vaccinate community members. “We have fought systemic and physical challenges to meet our objective of attaining 100% vaccinations. We have put our own lives in danger to ensure the safety of our community. This year, we received heavy rainfall and the rivers were overflowing, reducing our access to the villages. To address this, we formed human chains to cross the river, reached those villages and ensured that the inhabitants were vaccinated. Seeing our efforts, people also left behind their inhibitions to come forward and get themselves vaccinated,” Thete shared.
“The pandemic is over now and nobody is getting affected by the infection these days. So why should I take the vaccine and waste two days? It also results in weakness and affects my work,” asked one of the beneficiaries during an interaction. Pregnant women are still worried about the vaccine causing harm to their babies and some others fear that they will be confined to their rooms after taking the vaccination. “I fear that it will only increase our financial burden as I am the only person who earns in the house and not being paid for these many days could be a problem hence I am delaying taking up vaccinations,” said another community member.
KMS has reached 20,000 community members in their efforts to contribute to the country’s vaccination targets. By doing this, they have built alliances and collaborated with leaders who had an influence in their field of work. During the lockdown, many community members lost their livelihoods, affecting their source of income. Additionally, many community members refrained from getting vaccinated due to rumours and false information about it. “Fortunately, we could provide them ration kits with the help of CAC during the time of need and that is when they agreed to take the vaccine. However, it is really heart-wrenching to see that there is a dearth of livelihoods even now and I feel we need more interventions around creating opportunities for them. That can be a sustainable solution with regard to the problems our communities face,” Thete added.
Community Mobilizer Kajal Sheikh who works with KMS said that the training sessions conducted by CAC and Swasti Health Catalyst have eased the process of communicating with people about vaccination. “Loka sadhya nivanta zaale aah” (“People are relaxed now”), shared Sheikh. The team at KMC has also been trying to gain the confidence of local influencers who can help them in the journey of convincing the community members, she added. “Earlier we used to ask people to get the next dose of vaccination. Now, we try to understand the reason behind vaccine hesitancy first and then try to address their fears. This has helped us in convincing them to get vaccinated,” she said. Sheikh also shared how newlywed couples have similar concerns about whether they may experience difficulties getting pregnant after vaccination. However, the team resorted to ASHA and Anganwadi workers to make them aware of the positives of vaccination.
It has been extremely challenging for the teams to change the community members’ perceptions about vaccination. However, prompt coordination and communication between the ground partners and #COVIDActionCollab led to the making of numerous crucial decisions that enabled us in addressing the vaccine hesitation among the community members. It was through these ground partners, CAC organised many vaccination drives across the country to ensure that everyone is vaccinated to fight against the pandemic and that everyone is capable of bouncing back from uncertainties.