In mid-August, Wayanad in Kerala, the hilly northern district with one third of it under forests, was announced as the first in the state to vaccinate its entire adult population with the first dose of COVID-19 vaccine. That happened a week after Noolpuzha in Wayanad became the first tribal panchayat to fully vaccinate (with both doses) all of its adult population. By July end Vythiri in Wayanad was declared the first tourist spot to have completed at least one dose of vaccination for its adult population. Wayanad, one of the smaller districts in the state with an area of 2,131 square kilometers, has been consistently doing well during the pandemic – reporting the least number of fresh cases on most days, accounting for only 0.36% of the total COVID-19 deaths in Kerala. At one point, the district did not report a single case for a whole month (in April 2020). TNM spoke to Wayanad District Collector Dr Adeela Abdulla about how the district has managed to vaccinate its entire adult population and manage the COVID-19 situation.
“If you are talking about vaccination, the strategy we used is that we go to the people and not wait for them to come to us. Routine vaccinations are done at Primary Healthcare Centres (PHCs). We have the Local Self Government (LSG) involved in every level and every activity. We make data transparent and open so everyone knows what is going on. And we have good human resource management,” Dr Adeela Abdulla says.
She says they used an ‘election model’ in getting people to go to the vaccine centres. “Like political leaders come to your homes with voter slips, we give slips with a token number, saying this is the place and this is the time of their vaccination slot. In every ward, people get at least two options to vaccinate – as in at least two calls,” Adeela says.
It also helped that they started quite early (January 2021), and quite vigorously. Hundreds of special camps were arranged and dates were announced for respective wards. For instance, on a certain date, people with numbers 1 to 200 of a certain ward would get their slots. “The LSGs decide which wards should get the priority among themselves, but there can be no partiality on which houses in a certain ward should get it,” Adeela says.
In March, the district Administration did a campaign for tribal people, titled Mission March, to complete vaccination for those aged 60 and above. In May they did another campaign called Mop-up in May to cater to those in the 45-plus age group. “We sent vehicles to tribal hamlets and brought the people to the vaccination site. They were mobilised and given juice and refreshments. The tribal department sponsored Mission March and the ESAF bank donated their CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) funds for Mop-up at May Mission. The LSG and tribal departments worked together on this,” the Collector adds.
Dr Adeela at a vaccination drive
The administration also foresaw the vaccine shortage and began planning ahead. “In February we understood from a serosurvey that only nine out of 100 people were infected in the state. It meant that the remaining 91% will either have to get the disease or get the vaccine. So we decided to make use of all the vaccines we get as soon as they become available and every LSG was prepared for this. For a small district, we did well by giving 32,000 to 33,000 doses on a single day whenever there was availability (of vaccine).”
Helping in the vaccine administration were teams from the NGO Doctors For You and private hospitals. Rapid Response Teams (RRT) made sure people were mobilised and brought to the vaccination centres.
This is also how they dealt with the vaccine hesitancy of early days, especially in tribal hamlets. “Their fear is of injections. So we build their confidence by taking them all together. When they see their neighbours are all there together, they feel better. The next time, they come forward on their own for the second dose. And of course we also educated people about the pandemic through community radio, local television, promoters and pamphlets. For tribal people, we communicated through their language why vaccination is important,” Adeela says.
The education didn’t stop there. Adeela put daily Facebook lives giving out all the COVID-19 data so people were aware of what was happening. “I don’t believe in giving unnecessary panic. There is no need for unnecessary lockdowns. When cases are less, you allow them to relax. You give breaks to health workers. But during the peak time we are all active.”
Watch: Collector Dr Adeela's FB Live on vaccinating 18+ people
She says that they had to deal with increased tourism in Wayanad between the lockdowns as well. “We just made sure everyone was following COVID-appropriate behaviour.”