Chhattisgarh’s Raigarh district has been able to achieve what India needs to replicate—100 per cent vaccination for all adults with both doses. On 9 November, that is 298 days after the country’s Covid vaccination campaign started, Raigarh became one of the very few districts in India to achieve this milestone. The campaign in Raigarh, which has a population of 14.94 lakh, was not without challenges.
The preparedness for mass vaccination was ensured even before the start of the campaign by the District and Block Task Force committees, led by the office of the District Collector and Sub-Divisional Magistrates, respectively. These committees, set up in December 2020, provided a platform for due consultation with all stakeholders, enumeration of resources, and identification of bottlenecks and challenges at all levels. For instance, with the limited availability of vaccines during the initial phase, the planning and coordination for adequate security arrangements with the police department were carried out at these meetings. Subsequently, they provided closed monitoring and supportive supervision of the campaign.
Significant challenges faced during the early stages of the inoculation drive included vaccine hesitancy, resource scarcity and ensuring effective monitoring and supervision. Accordingly, multiple strategies were adopted by the district administration.
Involving local leaders
A comprehensive communication and social mobilisation strategy involving all the stakeholders was adopted during the preparatory and implementation phases. Regular virtual meetings were held with the local-level public representatives, including Sarpanch, Panch, ward members and officials, such as Panchayat Secretary, ASHA and Anganwadi worker, Kotwar, Patel. In these meetings, information on the benefits of vaccination, such as lower mortality rates, based on the evidence from other countries such as the UK, the US, and Israel, was shared. As a result, these local leaders got motivated to get themselves and their families vaccinated. Since they are the direct touch points with the community, they become advocates and champions for the other citizens.
Such interactions also provided a platform for the grassroots community leaders and mobilisers to discuss the local issues and share their strategies to solve them. For instance, during one such virtual interaction, a Sarpanch briefed about the prevalence of rumours within his village, such as vaccination causing impotency or paralysis. Another Sarpanch, Padmalochan Patel from Gram Panchayat Nawrangpur of Block Kharsia, narrated his strategy of going door to door. He quoted examples to villagers on how the vaccination had saved the healthcare and front line workers from the second Covid wave. This helped him dispel rumours. Subsequently, Nawrangpur became one of the first fully vaccinated Gram Panchayats in the district. In addition, the engagement of women self-help groups (SHGs), youth networks such as National Service Scheme, Nehru Yuva Kendra Sangathan, religious leaders, Mahila Arogya Samitis, local chamber of commerce and eco-clubs facilitated the sensitisation and mobilisation of the beneficiaries.
The robust awareness campaign provided critical information in Chhattisgarhi to the masses through creative means — Tikakaran Rath, loudspeakers on bicycles, posters, wall writings, street plays, etc. A vaccination anthem by a local artist was also recorded. It inculcated a sense of responsibility and belongingness among the people towards the campaign. In addition, awareness material and videos of known community leaders taking the jab were circulated on social media groups. Such campaigns were focused on communities with low rates of vaccination.
Enumeration of the privately employed, currently not employed and retired personnel, especially vaccinators and verifiers, that is data entry operators, provided a larger pool of workers who could be engaged for vaccination without affecting the essential health services. Similarly, route charts for vaccine distribution reduced the requirement of vehicles and ensured faster delivery of vaccines to the session sites.
Outreach vaccination sites
Special outreach sessions were organised for the industrial workers and miners within their work premises. Similarly, evening sessions for the farmers who go to the fields during the day, door-to-door campaigns for the disabled and tribals in remote hamlets provided access to them at the time and place of their convenience. Moreover, various locations such as schools, community halls, Panchayat Bhawans, Anganwadi Kendras were mapped to set up the vaccination centres. Thus, it maximised the reach of the campaign. In addition, indigenous strategies such as employing runners to transmit the data for entry at a centralised location in areas with poor network connectivity and preparing special vaccination teams for remote hilly areas that required treks were adopted.
Bottom-up targeted approach
The number and location of vaccination sites, the target for each site, and the areas to be targeted were planned at the block level. The bottom-up planning gave flexibility to the campaign and allowed us to efficiently use Raigarh’s resources. Also, it allowed the possibility to shift the session sites as per the local requirement. To ensure targeted planning, the electoral voter list was utilised as the baseline for identifying beneficiaries.
The progress at the district level was monitored based on defined indicators such as percentage of population covered both block-wise and village-wise and average vaccination per site. Moreover, real-time monitoring at regular intervals during the day solved many issues immediately — for example, deployment of a replacement in case of the vaccinator’s uninformed absence.
A mega-vaccination drive was planned and executed in the district on 26 June. During the drive, around 1.5 lakh beneficiaries, that is about 14 per cent of the target population, were vaccinated in a single day. In an election-like manner, all district level officials were involved as part of the drive. It significantly reduced the reluctance and led to Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) among the people. In addition, the collaboration and cooperation between public representatives and the government departments amplified the people’s resolve to get vaccinated.
The best performing areas’ frontline workers and local representatives were rewarded as champions through appreciation certificates and recognised through local media and social media channels.
Therefore, the Raigarh experience holds important lessons for India’s leaders in ensuring universal vaccination for all in a time-bound manner while also taking care safety and security. It shows that bringing all the stakeholders together in a systemic, planned manner can achieve the goal through communication, not coercion.
Bhim Singh @Bhimsin30731522 is District Collector, Raigarh, Chhattisgarh. Dr Ravi Mittal @ravimittalid is Chief Executive Officer of Zila Panchyat, Raigarh, Chhattisgarh. Views are personal.
(Edited by Anurag Chaubey)