New Delhi: The tiny hill state of Himachal Pradesh is racing ahead of the rest of the country with Covid vaccination, recording 62 per cent first-dose coverage against a national average of 23.4 per cent, as of Wednesday.
Of the state’s vaccine-eligible population, 23 per cent are fully vaccinated. For India, the figure is 5.7 per cent. Himachal Pradesh has the highest first-dose vaccination coverage among states, while Ladakh — which achieved 100 per cent first-dose coverage earlier this month — is the topper among union territories.
It is not as if the state has all the vaccines it needs, though. The initial target was to achieve 100 per cent first-dose coverage by the end of July, but that target has been pushed by another 15 days because of availability limitations, principal secretary health Amitabh Awasthi told ThePrint.
There are, however, other factors that have helped the state’s case. The fact that there is very little vaccine hesitancy, said Awasthi, and that the health department has a presence in each of the 10,000 villages of the state (including those rendered remote by the state’s rugged terrain), which helped ensure access was never a problem.
“We have a progressive population and the initial awareness campaigns worked very well. So the inbuilt vaccine hesitancy is less than other places. We also decided that instead of making people travel to centres, we should go to them,” said Awasthi.
“So, we carried out vaccinations in all primary health centres, sometimes in health sub-centres, and made use of the school buildings that have mostly been lying unused. We also wanted to ensure that the vaccinations never stopped — it should not be that we vaccinate the first three days of the week and then run out of doses for the rest of the week. So, we set realistic targets. We aimed at about 40,000-50,000 per day,” Awasthi said.
That number, 25 days a month (Sundays are holidays), comes to about 10 lakh per month. The total eligible population in the state is about 58 lakh. Between 21 and 30 June, when vaccinations were on in “campaign” mode, 850 teams were deployed across the state. Now, the number is down to about 400.
According to the Census 2011 (preceding J&K bifurcation into two UTs, and Andhra Pradesh split to form Telangana), Himachal ranks 21st by population in India. It has an area of 55,673 square kilometres, or 1/6th India’s largest state (Rajasthan).
In the 24 hours until Wednesday, 150 people had tested positive for Covid-19 in Himachal, with four dying of the disease. The state currently has 1,203 active Covid-19 cases.
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Supplies are an issue, though
Asked if Himachal is facing any problems about vaccine supplies, Awasthi said the state does have “supply constraints”.
“We are no different from anybody else. In fact, we had set a target of achieving 100 per cent first-dose coverage by the end of this month. That deadline has now been pushed by another 15 days because of that. We are constantly in touch with the Government of India. But you have to appreciate that our needs are also limited. When others ask for 1-2 crore doses more, we ask for 1-2 lakh, so the ministry accommodates us.”
Supplies are irregular, he said. Sometimes 50,000 doses come after a gap of two days, and, at times, double that amount after a longer interval. “But by the end of the month, we somehow achieve the target of 10 lakh doses,” he added.
Currently, according to the government mandate, second-dose recipients are being prioritised. About 30,000-40,000 people are being administered the second dose of the vaccine every day, Awasthi said.
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Presence in every village
According to Awasthi, while vaccine hesitancy was low in Himachal to begin with, the state government still brought in religious leaders, politicians and celebrities to spread awareness about the vaccines, while also training the committees that were monitoring people in home isolation to spread the word.
These committees — including ASHAs (accredited social health activists), anganwadi workers, local mahila mandal members, and elected members of panchayati raj institutions — visited people with home-isolation kits (containing medicines, pulse oximeters etc) and also talked about vaccines.
The fact that this conversation happened in a household that already had a lot of anxiety with respect to Covid, as one or more members were positive, meant that the message was internalised very well, he said.
Another factor that worked in favour of the vaccination drive was that the Himachal Pradesh health department has at least one building and a functioning centre in every village of the state, he added. “The model of doorstep delivery has worked,” Awasthi said.
(Edited by Sunanda Ranjan)
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