Though the State has begun an aggressive vaccination campaign against COVID-19, trying to vaccinate as many people as possible in the 45 years plus age group in the next 45 days, the lukewarm response is raising concerns.
While the response in districts such as Thiruvananthapuram, which has been administering over 20,000 doses a day, is encouraging, some vaccine hesitancy and lack of trust in the new vaccines are in evidence in Idukki, Malappuram, and Kasaragod, officials said.
When vaccination was opened up for the 60 plus age group on March 1, the response had been phenomenal, with people thronging the sites. “We expected a similar response when vaccinations were opened up for all above 45 years on April 1. But there is no urgency amongst people though cases are climbing,” an official said.
However, some district health administrations said the lukewarm response last week was because of the polls. With the election over, vaccination would pick up. “There is no crowding because it has now been made available right from primary health centres upwards and in a lot more private hospitals,” a district official said.
“We need the whole-hearted involvement of LSGI officials to take vaccination ahead. All of last week, they were involved in the poll affairs. And people were reluctant to take the shots fearing that they might be laid up with fever or other side-effects and miss participating in the election activities. We hope vaccination will pick up pace in a week,” K. Sakeena, district medical officer, Malappuram, said.
Media reports about even vaccinated people getting COVID infection have created confusion among the public and some sceptical questions on why one should get vaccinated if it is not to free people from a restricted life are questions health officials are facing in the field.
For the public, weary of the restrictions imposed by the pandemic, messages that they should continue to wear mask regardless of their vaccination status have been quite confusing.
“The messages on how vaccines can change the course of the pandemic and what should be expected after vaccination should be conveyed more lucidly to people. No vaccine gives an assurance that it can prevent all infections. But all vaccines give 100% assurance against serious disease, hospitalisation, and death. There have been very few infections in people who completed at least three weeks after their first vaccine dose. Though a few infections were reported in fully vaccinated healthcare workers, these were all mild and asymptomatic infections,” a health expert said.
The pandemic could be prolonged if people refuse to get vaccinate. If vaccination pace does not pick up and reach at least 70 % of the population, disease transmission may not reduce and will lead to the emergence of more mutant variants.
Scientists still do not know for sure if a vaccinated person can transmit infection to others. But there are research studies which suggest that even if a vaccinated person contracts COVID-19, he may be less infectious.
A research study from Israel reported that people who had been administered Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and who contracted COVID afterwards, had lower viral loads than unvaccinated people who caught the infection.
Lower viral load indicates that the person is less contagious and with sufficient coverage in the population, vaccination can reduce transmission, it is hoped.