New Delhi: Jammu and Kashmir is emerging as one of the country’s leading regions in terms of Covid-19 vaccination, with more than 67% of its population over the age of 45 already vaccinated and three districts reaching a 100% coverage in this age group.
J&K government data reveals that as of May 26, Union territory has fully vaccinated more than 67% of its population aged over 45, compared to the national average of 44.1 percent (according to data from the Union Ministry of Health).
J&K administration officials with whom ThePrint spoke said that while there was reluctance to start vaccination, micro-planning and engaging with authorities at district and panchayat levels, as well as together with religious leaders, helped speed up the vaccination campaign.
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Jammu and Kashmir has a total population of 1.4 crore, and so far have administered 31,45,639 doses of the Covid-19 vaccines. The number on May 1 was 23,71,985 – meaning more than eight doses of lakh were given in 26 days.
The only three districts in the country to have achieved 100% vaccination among those 45 and over are Jammu, Shopian and Ganderbal, all located in this union territory. Another district, Samba (97.88%), is also nearing completion of the vaccination campaign in this age group.
However, all is not rosy – there are districts like Kupwara and Srinagar that are lagging behind, with 32.90% and 41.95 of the more than 45 people vaccinated to date. These are the only districts in J&K that are below the 50 percent mark.
Overall, the Jammu division inoculated 98.29% of the 45 plus, while the Kashmir division inoculated 69.42%.
Vaccination for the 18-44 age group, which was opened nationwide on May 1, is only underway in eight districts at present, according to government officials.
Fight against vaccine hesitancy
Officials said that while vaccine reluctance was a concern at the start of the population, it has now been overcome.
“We had the experience of reluctance to vaccinate – we had also seen a similar reluctance during the measles vaccination campaign. So this time we were prepared and depended on a high intensity awareness program, which involved shaking people into awareness through the experiences of those who have lost loved ones due to Covid ”, Yasin M. Choudhary , mission director for the national health mission at J&K, told ThePrint.
In the Kashmir region, religious leaders have been brought in to help raise awareness, especially during the Islamic holy month of Ramzan.
“We appealed to religious leaders early on to respond to the reluctance, and their message was taken very seriously by the public, especially because we were seeing the spike in cases during Ramzan. There is a belief that vaccines cannot be taken while fasting, but we have managed to overcome this thanks to messages from religious leaders, ”added Yasin Choudhary.
Shopian authorities also credited religious leaders for playing a key role in raising awareness, which led to a 100% vaccination record of the district in the 45 and over age group.
“We have masjid committees, called Auqaf, to make announcements during daily prayers, as well as on Fridays. namaaz. It has helped a lot to raise awareness and address reluctance for religious reasons, ”said Shopian District Magistrate Sachin Kumar Vaishya.
However, in Jammu, the other district with the perfect record, officials said there was no need to mentor religious leaders.
“Kashmir has different challenges and that’s why religious leaders have been chained there. Here in Jammu we do not face these challenges, so our commitment has been to bring in community leaders and panchayat leaders, whose words resonate with the people, to raise awareness, ”Anshul said. Garg, the district deputy commissioner / magistrate.
The local media have also been brought in to ensure that the message is disseminated to the population.
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Micro-planning and decentralization
Officials also attributed “micro-planning” to their success. This involved a decentralized approach involving district authorities, panchayats and tehsil level officers who worked in tandem with the J&K administration.
“Micro-planning has helped us tremendously – involving the district and panchayat authorities, as well as working with family protection and education services,” said a senior health department official in J&K who did not wish to be named.
In addition, mobile vaccination camps have also been set up in remote areas. “We took a decentralized approach, which included setting up mobile camps in smaller villages and remote areas, and we made sure that the medical staff who observed the adverse reactions also traveled with these teams,” said Yasin Choudhary.
Officials said these mobile vaccination camps have helped the most in border areas. A senior Kupwara district administration official said, “Since there is a threat of militancy because it is a border district, these camps have helped to address the hesitation, and now we see the number. increase as people flock to get vaccinated. “
Panchayat and stand-level election officials helped conduct door-to-door polls, to make sure no one was left behind. “The door-to-door surveys worked both as an outreach program, where we informed them about the helpline numbers, and we also helped identify those who had not been vaccinated,” said Jammu DC Garg.
Lack of “fair distribution”?
Asked about the division of Kashmir lagging behind Jammu in terms of the overall percentage of over 45 vaccinated, Yasin Choudhary said: “Kashmir has fallen behind Jammu due to its higher population and reluctance that we noticed at the start. But if you go through the absolute numbers and look at the two divisions, there isn’t much of a difference.
A senior health department official who wished to remain anonymous said: “We saw a shortage in mid-May in Kashmir, but this has been sorted out now and we have enough doses from the center.”
In Srinagar, the second worst performing district, officials blame the “inequitable distribution” for the low number of vaccines.
“We receive the third highest doses at J&K after Jammu and Baramulla, despite our large population. Yet we have managed to vaccinate around 41% of those 45 and over, ”said a senior official who declined to be named.
Vaccines for the 18-44 age group
J&K has started vaccinations for 18-44 year olds only in eight districts – Jammu, Srinagar, Anantnag, Baramulla, Budgam, Kathua, Udhampur and Rajouri – but officials say more will be added soon and priority will be given to high cases load districts.
“Following the plan of the J&K administration, we have already started targeted vaccination in the 18 and over group and are inoculating those who are at high risk, those with co-morbidities and those who work in the public such as salespeople, tourist guides, shikarawallas. Government employees serving at Covid will then be recruited, and that’s how we move forward, ”said the Srinagar district administration official quoted above.
(Edited by Shreyas Sharma)
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