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How Modi govt plans to ensure uptake of Covid vaccine as India inches closer to rollout

In its Covid vaccine communication strategy, the govt highlights steps to address vaccine eagerness, hesitancy and crisis emerging from Adverse Event Following Immunisation.

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New Delhi: Building confidence in the safety and efficacy of Covid-19 vaccine through an information campaign and crisis management for problems arising from Adverse Event Following Immunisation (AEFI) — this is what the Narendra Modi government has planned to ensure a smooth rollout of the vaccine.

On Wednesday, the health ministry released Covid-19 Vaccine Communication Strategy to “alleviate apprehensions about the vaccine, ensure its acceptance and encourage uptake”. 

“The strategy will also serve to guide national, state and district level communication activities, so that the information on the Covid-19 vaccines and vaccination process reaches all people, across all states in the country,” said the document published on the ministry’s website. 

The government’s three-pronged strategy for the Covid vaccine communication involves: managing “potential disappointment” expressed by people if demand is unmet, “addressing vaccine hesitancy” and providing information on potential risks.

The ministry will also establish a National Media Rapid Response Cell (NMRRC) to “ensure preparedness through media monitoring and social listening and respond in real time”.

Three vaccine candidates — the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine, Bharat Biotech vaccine and Serum Institute of India’s Covishield vaccine — are awaiting emergency use authorisation from the government.

Also read: Govt to hold countrywide dry run for Covid vaccine rollout, meeting tomorrow with states

On vaccine hesitancy 

World over, vaccine hesitancy and misinformation are being viewed as obstacles that could hinder the crucial Covid vaccine rollout. 

A study based on a survey published in Nature Medicine journal found that of 13,426 participants across 19 countries, just 46.8 per cent would be completely willing to take the vaccine and 24.7 per cent would be somewhat willing.

The ministry’s strategy to tackle vaccine hesitancy involves disseminating information about the trial process that the vaccine has to undergo, the “eligibility criteria and vaccination process”, “where to access the vaccine”, the process involved in registering for a vaccine and the post vaccination support. 

In addition to this, to specifically target and dispel doubts about the vaccine, the government has plans to identify the known vaccine-hesitant communities and engage “influences” within the group, use digital media for the dissemination of appropriate information among others. 

Vaccine eagerness and AEFI crisis

Given the “keenness amongst the public” to get back to normal life, the ministry has also come up with a plan to tackle vaccine eagerness. This would involve “helping community to understand why only certain population groups (occupation and age specific) need to get vaccinated in Phase 1”.  

On managing any crisis arising from AEFI, the document said that a crisis communication group will be set up at a national level, whose core group will be integrated with the NMRRC.  

Meanwhile, “primary and second” media spokespersons will also be trained at the state and district level. The government is also planning to engage parliamentarians, other ministries, associations of doctors and healthcare workers and public and private sector companies to promote the Covid vaccine.

Also read: India’s ‘own Covid variant could emerge sooner or later’, should watch out, top expert says


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