With Few Takers for Vaccine in Gujarat, Health Officials Seek Help of Lawmakers, Religious Leaders

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The second phase of the nationwide coronavirus vaccination dry run was held on Friday.

“Though Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan has said that the vaccine will be provided free of cost to all, many do not trust the government”

Mahesh Trivedi | Clarion India

EVEN as health officials on Friday conducted the second phase of the nationwide Coronavirus vaccination dry run — a mock immunisation process–in 736 districts across 33 states and Union Territories ahead of the world’s biggest inoculation drive against the contagious pathogen, many among the six million Muslims in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state of Gujarat are in a cold sweat and have been dilly-dallying over registering their names for the booster shot.

Only 655,000 citizens on the wrong side of 50 and just 24,800 people with comorbidities have enrolled themselves for the jab, but, worried stiff by 50 per cent less registration in Muslim localities, civic authorities in Ahmedabad and other cities have sought the help of local councillors and religious leaders to dispel the rumours and doubts about the covid vaccine in the community.

“Yes, councillors, along with some clerics and community leaders, have started accompanying municipal staffers during their door-to-door survey and convince the misinformed citizens,” said former Ahmedabad municipal councillor Iqbal Shaikh, adding that some residents also did not enrol themselves for the immunity shot as they felt that their documents would be used for harassing them during the drive for the National Register of Citizens.

Health worker attending to an elderly patient.

In Vadodara, dedicated members of the Baroda Muslim Doctors’ Association (BMDA) have been boosting the efforts of the municipal corporation and religious leaders by appealing to the citizens to get inoculated after clearing their misconception that the vaccine causes infertility or has other adverse effects.

“We have been successful in reassuring the community that the jab is absolutely safe and there is no harm if they are given the shot in the arm,” said Muhammad Husain, chairman of BMDA, which has helped some 4,000 people beat the killer pandemic in the past eight months.

Indeed, the thumbs-down given by Muslims to the immunisation campaign can be blamed not just on fear of side-effects or misuse of data but on other factors, too.

Social worker Salim Shaikh told Clarion India that those who were healthy should not be given the hook and community members should not become guinea pigs for testing the efficacy of the vaccine.

No wonder, Ahmedabad-based Mujahid Nafees, convener of the Minority Coordination Committee, has dashed off a letter to Chief Minister Vijay Rupani urging him that Gujarat could become a model state if he, his ministers and senior officials of the state government set an example by taking the first shot of the covid vaccine before being given to the 63 million people of the state.

According to social activist Hozefa Ujjaini, the community has been reduced to second-class citizens and innocent people are being harassed and hounded, and, hence, he says, people do not take the government for its words.

“Though Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan has said that the vaccine will be provided free of cost to all, many do not trust the government, and their confusion is worse confounded by bombardment of true or false information from social media and newspaper reports,” he said.

Community leader Zahid Kadri said that Muslim clerics and scholars had allayed fears over the rumoured pork ingredients that could make the vaccines haram, but citizens were scared to death after reports of some volunteers falling sick after being given the square needle.

While diabetologist Dr Mohamed Dohadwala told Clarion India that people had not been properly counselled about the importance of taking the vaccine for protection against the deadly virus, journalist-activist Kaleem Siddiqui also said that the need of the hour was to spread awareness about the crucial immunisation drive.

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