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India COVID SOS & DBT/Wellcome Trust India Alliance create awareness on vaccine equity

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The action-oriented panel discussion, saw panelists and the audience discussing proactive approaches to ensuring that the disadvantaged groups in India get equal access to COVID vaccines

In a recent virtual panel discussion, people at the forefront of the COVID vaccination drive across the country, including—on the ground and in policy-making task forces, came together to address the issue of vaccine equity. The action-oriented panel discussion, saw panelists and the audience discussing proactive approaches to ensuring that the disadvantaged groups in India get equal access to COVID vaccines.

Speaking during the panel discussion, Dr Gagandeep Kang, Professor of Microbiology at the Wellcome Trust Research Laboratory, Division of Gastrointestinal Sciences, Christian Medical College, Vellore, said, “If we want to enhance equity, we need to make sure there are more vaccines available and more vaccines that can be tailored to specific priority groups. Vaccine hesitancy is also a very local problem that needs local solutions that are driven both by science and by culture.” –

Adding to it, Uma Mahadevan, Principal Secretary, Panchayat Raj, Government of Karnataka, said, “In March 2020, when the pandemic was declared, we set up 6000 Gram Panchayat Task Forces. These task forces include the elected representatives, the panchayat staff as well as the ASHA and Anganwadi workers. Through their work since the start of the pandemic, the Gram Panchayat Task Forces had gained the trust of the rural public and therefore to move to the activity of vaccination – to communicate to people, educate them about the importance of vaccination and enlist the eligible for vaccination was not difficult.”

Apart from it, Dr Tanya Seshadri, Director, Tribal Health Resource Centre Vivekananda Girijana Kalyana Kendra, informed about the first Adivasi COVID care centre in the district. She said, “We realised that the people didn’t have any misconceptions about what COVID-19 is, but they didn’t want to be taken to a far-away area and they were happy for isolation at a centre, provided close to their hamlet. That way, we established the state’s first Adivasi COVID care centre in our district, which was completely supported by the Gram Panchayat.

When vaccination campaigns opened, for this hamlet, more than 90% of the locals agreed to be vaccinated. This, for us, was a lesson, that it wasn’t just about going and enforcing administrative policy, but it was about having a conversation and regaining trust of the local people.”

Dr Venkatesan Chakrapani, Chairperson, Centre for Sexuality and Health Research and Policy (C-SHaRP), while mentioning about the transgenders, said, “Many transgenders face discrimination and have been hit by loss of livelihood due to the pandemic. Challenges to access the CoWIN system for vaccination include low literacy rates and access to smartphones, lack of identification, hesitancy to register in the ‘others’ category and paid vaccines are unaffordable among others. However, these can be addressed with Trans community driven awareness campaigns and community ambassadors as well as NGO-issued letters and identity cards.”

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