One of the largest COVID-19 vaccination campaigns in the world is ongoing in India and over 16 crore doses of the vaccine have been administered as of 6th May. Vaccines offer the best exit strategy from the pandemic. However, despite the availability of data regarding the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines, public scepticism and lack of knowledge about vaccines persist across the country. This is especially exacerbated in rural and tribal India where technology penetration is low and government messaging on vaccination or Covid Appropriate Behaviour (CAB) is limited.
It is, therefore, essential that along with the vaccine rollout, an effective communication and awareness strategy is undertaken in rural India to help disseminate timely, accurate and transparent information about vaccination. This will fight vaccine hesitancy, alleviate apprehensions, ensure its acceptance and encourage more citizens to get vaccinated. Such a strategy needs to take a decentralised approach of reaching out to villages, given the challenges of technology and difficult to access areas, geographically.
It is critical to sensitise communities on the need for mass vaccination, dispel myths around the COVID-19 vaccine and allay fears, as well as to facilitate registration of eligible populations for vaccination. For this, an approach on improving knowledge, attitude and practice is required.
Knowledge on vaccination: In rural parts, it is important to first make communities aware about what vaccination is and its purpose. The lack of such rudimentary information makes people vulnerable to rumours and misinformation. For this, the messages have to be in the local language and need to be contextualised as per the socio-cultural background of communities. It also needs to address state-specific variations and vulnerabilities such as rural, tribal, nontribal, and hard to reach pockets.