Indore: What the Transgender Welfare Society, a group of activists in Indore, started out to do was ensure Covid vaccination for members of their community. What they ended up doing was establish much wider outreach to tackle vaccine hesitancy at a much larger scale.
It all began in May, when Sandhya Gharvi, an Indore-based transgender activist, began noticing that not many members of the community had been vaccinated yet. Enquiries revealed two primary reasons.
One, all vaccination centres require recipients to bring an identity proof to register themselves, but many members of the transgender community do not have any, said Gharvi.
“Most transgender people are abandoned by their families at an early age, leaving them to fend for themselves. They don’t have any documented proof of their birth or identity,” Gharvi added.
The second reason was a fear of harassment or abuse from others at vaccination centres, which was keeping away even those who had a valid ID proof.
That’s when Gharvi and a group of fellow activists from the Transgender Welfare Society approached the Indore district administration with a request to set up separate vaccination camps exclusively for the community, where no ID proof would be sought.
Vaccination guidelines laid down by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare include a provision to allow Covid shots for vulnerable groups who don’t have any ID proof. For such groups, the guidelines say, a “key facilitator” — who has an ID card that can be used as a proxy for those without one — must be identified by district officials.
In this case, activists of the Transgender Welfare Society became the “key facilitators”.
The administration gave its go-ahead and set up camps for the community. “When we learnt that transgenders in the district are facing this hiccup, we were prompt in working with this welfare group and immediately set up camps across different parts of the district, where transgenders can come and get vaccinated,” said Indore’s chief immunisation officer Tarun Gupta. “The IDs of the society heads were used for this purpose.”
So far, 250 of the estimated 350 transgenders in Indore have received the first dose of the Covid vaccine, Gupta said.
It was while pushing for these transgender-only vaccine camps that Gharvi realised something else. “Many non-transgender people also began showing interest, even though they had their concerns about how safe vaccines are. But they seemed keen and interested to know more,” she said.
Just like that, the campaign of the transgender society had found a wider audience than they had envisioned.
Door-to-door awareness campaign
The curiosity shown by Indore residents at large led Gharvi and her team to start conducting wider vaccine awareness drives, and even help set up more camps for the general population.
Noorie Khan, a member of the Transgender Welfare Society, said team members spread out across Indore and especially targeted the poorer localities. They made announcements about vaccines using loudspeakers, and even showed up at people’s homes.
“I used to sit in rickshaws and use a loudspeaker to go from street to street and make announcements about the importance of vaccines,” Khan said.
Khan and other members were worried about how people would react when they turned up at their homes — transgenders usually visit homes during celebrations to seek money and gifts — but said they were pleasantly surprised to see the reaction.
“It was very interesting to see how people reacted to us showing up at their doorstep to spread awareness about vaccines. Some said they are used to seeing us come to their homes during festivals for money and gifts, but they never expected this,” Khan said.
“People were surprisingly very welcoming and we managed to convince several of them to get vaccinated,” Khan added.
Along with their awareness drive, the society approached district officials with a request to let them facilitate a vaccination camp for all people, including non-transgenders.
‘They helped clear our doubts about vaccines’
The group began organising these vaccine camps — with the help of the district management — in June. At one such camp in Indore’s Khajrana locality on 21 June, several recipients told ThePrint that they were anti-vaccine until recently.
“I had heard some very scary things about vaccines, and how it causes death. I was very hesitant, but when members from this group showed up at my home, they helped us understand vaccines a lot better,” said Bubbly Khare, an Indore resident who had come to the camp along with her husband.
Sabir Hussain, an autorickshaw driver, said he was “completely terrified of vaccines till Noorie and Sandhya showed up at my doorstep”.
“There were all these rumours I had heard about vaccines. But thankfully they were very forthcoming in clearing all my doubts. I have brought my entire family to this camp, and even encouraged my neighbours and friends to get vaccinated,” he said.
A total of 500 people showed up at the 21 June vaccination camp, with another 500 participating in another organised by the group.
Gupta lauded the initiative taken by the district’s transgender community. “The transgender welfare group has been instrumental in motivating and mobilising many people to get vaccinated, especially those who are from relatively poorer sections and lack awareness,” said Gupta.
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