Initial vaccine hesitancy behind low vaccination in Tamil Nadu: Govt officials

A recent survey by the Observer Research Foundation showed that Tamil Nadu had the lowest vaccination coverage per 1,000 persons among its 60 plus population.
COVID-19 vaccination
COVID-19 vaccination
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Recently, Tamil Nadu has been grabbing headlines for the wrong reasons with the state reporting poor vaccination coverage. More alarmingly, a survey by the Observer Research Foundation (ORF) shows that Tamil Nadu is among the worst performing states in the country when it comes to vaccinating its senior citizens.

According to the survey, out of every 1,000 people aged 60 and above in Tamil Nadu, only 559 people have received a vaccine dose (dose wise data unavailable on CoWIN). Out of a 10 million senior citizen population in the state, only around 5.8 million have received at least one dose of the vaccine. This is the lowest among all the 29 states and seven Union Territories. In fact, the neighbouring states such as Karnataka, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh have performed exceedingly well in vaccinating its senior citizens. Meanwhile, the national average for this age group is estimated to be at 947.3 per 1,000.

“The state needs to buckle up as the senior citizen age group is among the most vulnerable population. Before a third wave begins, the state should have a strategy that focuses on fully vaccinating senior citizens to avoid future COVID-19 casualties,” a researcher from ORF explained. 

Reason for low vaccine coverage

Speaking to TNM, J Radhakrishnan, Health Secretary of Tamil Nadu, argued that only factoring in per capita vaccination and population to ascertain vaccination coverage is unfair, as the state’s ability to vaccinate its people also depends on the supply of vaccine doses. He added that Tamil Nadu has had a long history of vaccine hesitancy.

“In the first four months of the vaccination drive, Tamil Nadu saw a high vaccine hesitancy among the population. Added to this was the death of actor Vivek, which was a big blow to our efforts to create awareness about getting immunised against COVID-19,” Radhakrishnan explained. 

According to J Radhakrishnan, in the first four months, (January to April 2021), Tamil Nadu was only vaccinating anywhere from 5-15 lakh people every month. “But things picked up during the second wave, with more people opting to take vaccines,” he said, adding that in August 2021, the state administered over 85 lakh doses. According to reports, nearly 96% of vaccine stock allocated to government centres were administered in August, when the state received 57 lakh vaccine doses from the Union government. 

“These numbers would be concerning only if vaccine consumption was low in the state. But every time we get a fresh stock, it only lasts 3-4 days. Most of the vaccine centres across the state are packed. The total vaccination coverage is low mostly due to the initial challenge that we faced with vaccine hesitancy. Now that that is not a challenge anymore, we will see the numbers picking up,” he said, explaining that the average will remain low compared to other states due to the hiccups in the first few months.

The state has been seeing an increase in the number of vaccine-takers every passing month.

In August 2021, the average number of vaccinations in Tamil Nadu in a day was 2.7 lakh as compared to 2.1 lakh in July and 1.9 lakh in June. For September, Tamil Nadu has already been allocated 1.04 crore doses and expects to vaccinate 5 lakh people a day.

However, with regard to low vaccination coverage among the senior citizen population, government officials say that they are studying the data to better understand the causes.

TS Selvavinayagam, Joint Director, Directorate of Public Health Tamil Nadu, told TNM the state is putting into place a focused strategy to vaccinate more senior citizens. “We are identifying the list of elderly persons who are yet to get vaccinated. We are continuously campaigning to create awareness among people and also considering mega drives where we vaccinate big numbers of people within a day,” he explained.

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