Guwahati: With Manipur going to polls next month, and amid an uptick in cases, the low vaccination rate in the state is a matter of concern.
According to officials in the state administration, these low percentages are partly attributable to human behaviour, namely vaccine hesitancy, and partly to discrepancies in data about Manipur’s population. This means that there may be a difference between Manipur’s actual vaccination rate versus the number reflected on CoWin, the government’s official tracking portal.
According to CoWin data, Manipur is the third-lowest performing state when it comes to Covid-19 vaccination. Only 56 per cent of the population has received the first dose, while 43 per cent of the population has received the second dose. The state only fares better than Nagaland (48 per cent first dose, 36 per cent second dose) and Meghalaya (55 per cent first dose, 40 per cent second dose), according to the portal.
However, V. Vumlunmang, additional chief secretary (health) in Manipur, told ThePrint that the low rate is attributable to the Union health ministry’s population targets exceeding the actual number of people in the state.
“Its (Union ministry’s target is) based on the population percentage as provided by the Registrar General of India (RGI). When we spoke to them, they said that it’s an estimate and there could be a difference of a few lakhs. For a state like ours where the numbers are small, a few lakhs make a very big difference,” Vumlunmang said.
According to him, vaccination percentages based on electoral data may provide a more accurate picture. Using electoral data, around 69 per cent of the population in Manipur has received the first dose while 52 per cent has received the second dose so far, Vumlunmang said, adding that these numbers needed improvement.
ThePrint has e-mailed the Union Health & Family Welfare Ministry about the “discrepancy” in the data. The report will be updated when there is a response.
Manipur registered 235 Covid cases on 17 January and 279 on 16 January. The number was 158, 116 and 155 on the preceding three days.
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A controversy over population data has bubbled since the 2001 census in Manipur, a state whose history has been marked by a tensions between the ethnic Meitei population that dominates the valley region and the tribes that mostly occupy the hill districts.
Essentially, the 2001 Census recorded an extremely high growth in the population of the hill districts (as high as 169 per cent), increasing their population share vis-à-vis the valley. Several civil society groups in the valley contested this. There was also opposition to the Centre’s attempts to roll out delimitation (the process of demarcating boundaries of parliamentary or assembly constituencies) in the state based on this data, resulting in long legal battles.
In 2005, the Gauhati High Court passed a judgment saying that a fresh counting of the people should be done in nine sub–divisions of three hill districts, but the Supreme Court later stayed this direction.
In practical terms, currently, this means that local head counts and the health ministry’s vaccination targets are at odds.
State immunisation officer Dr Manihar Singh told ThePrint that, at the block level, there is a difference of about four lakh in the projected and actual population of adults eligible for vaccination.
“From the block-level, the head count is around 19.37 lakh whereas the Union health ministry’s projected target is 23.41 lakh,” Singh said.
“We have raised this issue with the Union ministry. In my opinion, the electoral data is more reliable,” he said.
According to Vumlunmang, the ministry has acknowledged the problem in data, but even, accounting for this, the vaccination rate required improvement. “Sixty-nine per cent is still not 100 per cent. Our effort has to continue,” he said.
Low vaccine coverage in hills
According to district-wise CoWin data accessed by ThePrint, the hill areas of Manipur are lagging behind the valley in vaccine coverage.
Nine of the 10 hill districts of the state ranked among the lowest in terms of vaccination coverage. In Kamjong, Pherzawl, Senapati, Ukhrul and Kangpokpi districts, for instance, first-dose coverage was between 34.6 per cent and 20.11 per cent, while second-dose coverage was between 32 per cent and 13.4 per cent.
According to Singh, the issue with data was a factor in Kangpokpi, the district with the lowest vaccine coverage.
“Kangpokpi was carved out in 2016 from Senapati district… but it now has a higher population than Senapati according to the target given by the ministry. This is next to impossible,” he said.
According to health ministry data accessed by ThePrint, while the population target in Kangpokpi is 2,26,948, the target in Senapati is only 97,654.
However, the hill districts also pose other challenges.
“There is [vaccine] hesitancy in the districts bordering Nagaland. During the second wave, fortunately, these regions were low on positivity. So, the villagers would ask us, ‘Why are you coming and bothering us?’ The Naga villages and remote villages are just not willing to get vaccinated,” Vumlunmang said.
According to him, the government had reached all the villages in an attempt to vaccinate everyone.
Officials pointed out that some districts had achieved very high vaccination coverage (based on the voter list), including nearly 100 per cent in Jiribam and more than 80 per cent in Imphal East and Imphal West.
Covid cases are currently rising in Manipur, like the rest of the country, with a positivity rate of 11.9 per cent Monday. Vumlunmang said that the chief secretary had held a review meeting Monday. “Each district, deputy commissioner has been instructed to give one big push [to vaccinations] within the limits of voluntary choice. We will really take it up on a war footing,” he said.
(Edited by Asavari Singh)
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