Telangana: Vaccination in tribal villages hampered by Kharif season and distance

In Telangana’s Mulugu district, field officers are visiting each village and going door-to-door urging people to take their second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
A tribal village observing self-lockdown
A tribal village observing self-lockdown

After prevailing over the initial challenge of persuading Adivasis to get the COVID-19 vaccine, authorities in Telangana are now struggling to get them inoculated with the second dose of the vaccine. This problem is particularly prevalent in the Mulugu district of Telangana, which has a significant tribal community. As a measure to encourage residents to avail the second dose, Mulugu District Collector Krishna Adithya has instructed field officers and other village-level officials to do a door-to-door campaign.

“The two primary reasons why the beneficiaries are not showing interest in taking the second dose is: because of the long-distance and it being the Kharif season. The farmers are busy doing agriculture work. This is the peak season,” said District Medical and Health Officer (DMHO) Dr M Venkateswara Rao. The Kharif season begins in June and ends in October.

Adding that Primary Health Centres where the vaccination is being done is around 15-20 km away, he said, “They are unwilling to travel all the way on their own.” To address this issue, the District Collector has asked all the village-level officers to visit each village and persuade the beneficiaries to avail of the second dose. “Each Gram Panchayat has a government-issued tractor, we are using these vehicles to transport people from each village to the vaccination centre,” Dr Rao said. This drive has been happening for the past one week, he said.

While some authorities want vaccination drives to be held at sub-centres, to avoid this problem, such a proposal has been overruled. A vaccination programme can be held only at a facility that has doctors and necessary medical equipment to provide treatment in case of  AEFI  (adverse events following immunization). 

According to Mulugu DMHO, only around 20% of the tribal population has been vaccinated.  

A similar situation is prevailing in Adilabad, another district in the state with a substantial population of tribal people. “People are busy with work because of the Kharif season. Some are hesitant because of the lockdown, while distance is another issue,” said Nihar, a resident of Vidya Nagar in Adilabad.

The situation regarding vaccine hesitancy is much worse in Adilabad. “Vaccine hesitancy is highly prevalent here. People are not coming to get vaccinated because of fear. In some places when our staff went to sensitise them, they were asked not to come again. But somehow we managed to vaccinate a few with the first dose, but now there are no vaccines left for the second dose,” said Dr Narender Rathod, Adilabad DMHO. The shortage of COVID-19 vaccines has proved to be another worry for the authorities. “There are almost no vaccines available for the second dose,” he further added.

Owing to the vaccine shortage, the Telangana government has stopped giving the first dose of the vaccine from May 8, in order to prioritise those who are due their second shot. A total of 65,000 people have been vaccinated in Adilabad, according to the DMHO. 

In contrast to Mulugu, in Bhadradri-Kothagudem district, the DMHO Dr JVL Sirisha said that they are facing no problems in vaccinating people with the second dose because of NGOs working for the welfare of Adivasis. “We can only gauge the prevalence of vaccine hesitancy once the government resumes first dose vaccination. Of course, there is vaccine hesitancy, but it is not so severe.”

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