In the run-up to the launch of the country’s COVID-19 vaccination drive for teenagers in the 15-18 age group on January 3, 2022, the Telangana government began making plans to vaccinate those who come under the category in the state. According to the Telangana Public Health and Family Welfare Department, there are 18,41,000 beneficiaries within this age group. But a few weeks into the drive, officials say that they are not seeing as many teenagers vaccinated as they would like in some districts, and attribute this to vaccine hesitancy due to lack of information in rural areas. At the time of writing, 10.27 lakh of teenagers in the state have been vaccinated, against the target of 18.41 lakh.
Data released by the Director of Public Health and Family Welfare shows that Nagarkurnool district has seen the lowest vaccination numbers in the 15-18 age group at 32%, while only 39% have been vaccinated in Vikarabad district. The districts of Medchal-Malkajgiri, Hyderabad and Rangareddy, which fall under the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) have seen 51%, 48% and 39%, respectively, of the 15-18 age group getting their first jab of the COVID-19 vaccine.
However, Wanaparthy and Mahboobnagar districts have the highest vaccination rate for this section of the population, with 88% and 84% vaccinated, respectively. Narayanpet comes in third with 81%, while Jogulamba Gadwal is at fourth place with 76% vaccinated with the first jab.
Nagarkurnool District Medical and Health Officer (DMHO), Dr Sudhakar Lal, told TNM that many teenagers, especially in rural areas, are worried about the side-effects that come with the vaccine and said this was one of the reasons for low numbers in the district. He further added, “The numbers were low due to the Sankranthi holidays as well, and there was some amount of fear among teenagers due to lack of information.”
However, to tackle this hesitancy, staff at schools and colleges have been doing their part to alleviate students’ fears. "College heads, school principals and class teachers are part of motivating and mobilising the students to get vaccinated, medical officers of concerned mandals and teachers are reaching out to the students on a day-to-day basis,” he said. Now, we see more students coming forward to get vaccinated, he added.
A Gangaiah, who lives in Achampet Mandal in Nagarkurnool district, is a teacher and parent. He said within his own family, some teenagers were worried about getting the vaccine. "Two girls, who are 15 years old and part of my extended family, were hesitating to get vaccinated but I explained to them the advantages of vaccination and why it is necessary,” said Gangaiah.
Gangaiah further said that as more teenagers in the state live in rural areas, this could be a reason for the slight delay in the vaccination drive reaching them and the lower numbers.
According to official data, 32% of 44,750 teenagers in Nagarkurnool district have received the first jab of the COVID-19 vaccine, however the DMHO said that they have vaccinated over 42% as per the latest reports available with him.
Dr K Balu, DMHO of Mancherial district that has vaccinated 64% of eligible teenagers, said that active measures taken up by district authorities to reach out to communities have helped see a good turnout during the 15-18 vaccination drives. He said that health officers are coordinating with the education department and Grama Panchayat officials to conduct vaccination drives across villages.
"There was some sort of hesitancy among the adults/elders in tribal areas earlier, but youngsters are coming forward as they're aware of the Omicron variant," said Dr K Balu, and added that they will vaccinate all the targeted population soon.
Meanwhile, the Telangana Health and Family Welfare minister T Harish Rao on Thursday, January 20, conducted a video conference with minister Dayakar Rao, Chief Secretary Somesh Kumar and all the district collectors, DMHOs, Municipal and Panchayat Raj officials on conducting a door-to-door fever survey in order to assess the COVID-19 situation in the state. He also directed the officials to conduct vaccination drives without any interruption.