“I am confident that more people will get vaccinated in the coming days and weeks.” —Dr. K. Sudhakar, Health and Medical Education Minister
Vaccinating healthcare and frontline workers seems to have become a big headache for the State Government with lukewarm response from the day of launching of vaccination drive by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Jan.16. Health Department officers are literally begging healthcare and frontline workers to get free vaccination to protect themselves from COVID-19 contagion. While many healthcare workers have openly refused to take it suspecting its ‘efficacy’, frontline staff are not at all bothered to get the jab despite appeal by Department Heads. Health and Medical Education Minister Dr. K. Sudhakar spoke to Star of Mysore on the current vaccination status in Karnataka. — Excerpts…
By Shyam Sundar Vattam
Star of Mysore (SOM): How has been the second round of vaccination going on in State?
Dr. K. Sudhakar: Second dose of Covid-19 vaccination has begun in the State starting Monday last. As on Sunday, 4,09,836 healthcare workers and 86,798 frontline workers have been administered first dose of vaccine across the State with a coverage of 50 percent and 30 percent respectively. The second round of vaccination has begun for healthcare workers and quite a few have taken the jab.
SOM: The vaccination drive was launched with much fanfare by none other than PM Modi. But the enthusiasm has died down subsequently. What are the reasons for it?
Dr. Sudhakar: PM Modi launched the world’s largest vaccination programme in the fight against Covid-19 on Jan. 16. The first case of Covid-19 reported in India was on Jan. 30, 2020. So, as a nation we were able to develop two indigenous vaccines within one year and start administering it. Isn’t it something which we should be proud of? It is indeed a matter of pride for every Indian. India’s roll-out of COVID-19 vaccine inoculation has shot off as the fastest in the world too.
So far, we have vaccinated more than 75 lakh healthcare workers and frontline warriors in the country. First 7 million doses in India took just 26 days, while UK and USA took 48 and 27 days respectively. So, I don’t think it is true that the enthusiasm has gone down. We must not forget that we have also exported vaccines to more than a dozen countries.
SOM: Are you disappointed with the lukewarm response of healthcare workers as only 50 to 60 percent are taking the vaccine?
Dr. Sudhakar: Karnataka crossed one lakh mark in covid vaccination (on Jan. 21) in just 6 days after the launch of the drive. Karnataka was also the first State in the country to cross 2 lakh inoculations on Jan. 25, that is, 10th day of vaccination drive. More than 70 percent coverage among healthcare workers has been achieved in many districts including Chikkaballapura, Uttara Kannada and Tumakuru. In Urban centres like Bengaluru, the coverage has been little slow. There is a specific reason for this. Majority of the beneficiaries registered for vaccination in urban areas are medical and paramedical students. Since it is exam time many students are hesitant to get vaccinated. Moreover, several students studying here are from other States. They are hesitant to get vaccine now because they have to come back for the second dose as it is mandatory to get both the doses at same booth. However, we are convincing the students to get vaccination. Many senior doctors, Police officers and Government officials are coming forward to get vaccinated to boost the morale of the public. I appreciate all of them.
SOM: A similar situation is being witnessed regarding vaccination for frontline workers with tepid response from them. What could be the reason?
Dr. Sudhakar: The vaccination for frontline workers started only a week ago. As on Wednesday, 17th February, we have vaccinated more than one lakh frontline workers with coverage of 30 percent. Several senior Police Officers have taken vaccine to build confidence among Police personnel. I am confident that more people will get vaccinated in the coming days and weeks.
SOM: Is it due to strong belief among people that Covid-19 pandemic is slowly disappearing or due to disbelief about the vaccines following negative publicity?
Dr. Sudhakar: I have been constantly appealing to people to not let the guard down as the pandemic is not yet over. I also appeal to people to not believe in rumours and misinformation about the safety of vaccine. The vaccines are approved by regulatory authorities only after following due procedures. So the vaccines are completely safe.
SOM: Heads of Revenue Department and other Departments which move closely with the people have taken the shot to instil confidence among the staff. But this has not yielded results in many districts. What is the solution to this lackadaisical attitude of Government employees?
Dr. Sudhakar: As I said, the vaccination for frontline workers has only begun a week ago. Let us wait for a few more days.
SOM: Do you think the Government should have made the vaccine mandatory than making it optional?
Dr. Sudhakar: No. The vaccine should and will be optional.
SOM: Will the Government plan to seek the help of celebrities and religious heads to make an appeal for the remaining healthcare and frontline workers to get vaccinated?
Dr. Sudhakar: We have already written to the Centre to allow 1,000 eminent personalities and celebrities to get vaccinated so that it will boost confidence among public. Certainly it will be a huge confidence building measure.
SOM: Why has Karnataka not been able to achieve the vaccination target given by the Central Government?
Dr. Sudhakar: There is no target set by Central Government. Healthcare workers and frontline workers have voluntarily registered for vaccination.
SOM: If this is the attitude of healthcare and frontline workers, do you expect a similar response from general public?
Dr. Sudhakar: With regard to public response, we have to wait and see.
SOM: When will vaccine be available to general public?
Dr. Sudhakar: Once the healthcare and frontline workers are vaccinated, the next priority group will be senior citizens and people with comorbidities. The vaccination drive has been planned to be implemented in a smooth and orderly manner and the Centre will issue guidelines at an appropriate time.
SOM: Are all the elected representatives, starting from Gram Panchayat to Parliament, ready to take vaccine?
Dr. Sudhakar: Yes. I think all elected representatives are ready for vaccine. I would have taken it on day one if permitted.