New Delhi: The health ministry is exploring the option of “ethical messaging” to tackle hesitancy over Covid-19 vaccines among healthcare workers, but it ruled out any immediate plans of the political brass taking the vaccine shots to boost confidence.
This, they said, would amount to violating the order of “priority groups” for vaccination as finalised by the National Expert Group on Vaccination for Covid-19.
“There are some ethical messages that we can give out— vaccines give you protection against disease, vaccines give you protection against (disease) mortality, so the ethical question is, if you have protection available will you deny someone or deny yourself that protection? Protection delayed is protection denied so it is important to take your vaccine when the time comes,” said a senior official in the Ministry of Health.
“We are looking at a campaign where we underscore the importance of vaccination and why it is not correct to hold back,” the official added.
While there is no clarity on the timeline for the campaign, the messaging has already started with NITI Aayog member Dr Vinod Paul making the appeal at the weekly briefing Tuesday.
Uptake of the vaccines in the first few days after the programme kicked off last Saturday has been variable — ranging from 27.9 per cent in Punjab to 89.3 per cent in Lakshadweep, according to data shared by the ministry.
In Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, it was 71 per cent each, while in both Puducherry and Tamil Nadu, it is about 34 per cent each.
The cumulative number of healthcare workers vaccinated touched 6,31,417 as of 6 pm Tuesday. Overall the uptake, according to health ministry officials, is only about 44 per cent.
No plan for PM or elected representatives to take the shot
Replying to a question about whether the prime minister or any other politician would be taking the vaccines to boost confidence, a health ministry source said, “Why should they?”
“We have clearly defined who our priority groups are in this phase. They do not need to set an example. Why can’t Dr (V.K.) Paul (NITI Aayog member) or Dr (Randeep) Guleria (AIIMS director) do so and make appeals? We are currently addressing healthcare workers, for that a Bollywood celebrity or the prime minister does not have to deliver the message,” said the source.
Both Dr Paul and Dr Guleria took the Covaxin shot when the vaccinations started on 16 January.
On Tuesday, Dr Paul asserted that he feels fine after the shot. “I have taken Covaxin and I have zero side-effects,” he said.
Internationally, top leaders across countries — from UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Queen Elizabeth II and her husband Prince Philip to American Vice President Mike Pence, US President-elect Joe Biden, US Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro and Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — have taken vaccine shots.
A few elected representatives in India, who jumped the queue despite PM Modi’s instructions against it, have been at the centre of criticism for getting themselves vaccinated in their respective states.
In West Bengal, two Trinamool Congress MLAs in Purba Bardhaman district got the shot on the first day by virtue of being members of the local Rogi Kalyan Samiti, which is an oversight committee on the functioning of the local hospitals with representations from the legislature and civil society. The incident triggered controversy with the BJP accusing the ruling party in Bengal of being “vaccine thief”.
In Telangana, health minister Etala Rajender also took the vaccine shot. But in Delhi, Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan, maintained that he, despite being a doctor himself, would wait for his turn when vaccinations start for above 50-year-olds.