Editorial Notes

End vaccine inequity: Kathmandu Post

The paper says it is the state's responsibility to address those hesitant to get vaccinated through a robust information campaign.

A healthcare worker prepares a syringe with the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine in New York on Jan 29, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

KATHMANDU (THE KATHMANDU POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - There isn't much that is particularly commendable about Nepal's vaccination drive against the Covid-19 pandemic.

More than a year after the state began inoculating its citizens, only 54 per cent of the population has been fully vaccinated. If the initial phase of the vaccination drive faced hiccups owing to the state's inability to procure enough doses, leading to a months-long gap between the first and second doses, the past few months, when vaccine doses have become easier to procure, have laid bare the state's logistical ineptitude exposed by its failure to administer them quickly.

Logistics, though, is not the only problem undermining the state's vaccination drive. Throughout the country, countless families are yet to be vaccinated as they lack basic information about the vaccine.

As the Post reported on Tuesday (Feb 15), 70 Musahar families in Chandrapur Municipality in Rautahat district remain unvaccinated because they are either vaccine hesitant or live in a vaccine information void. Members of the Musahar community who spoke with the Post said they had no idea what the injection did, and where they could get it.

Only 20 per cent of the members of another Musahar community in Gajura Municipality were reported vaccinated in a district whose overall vaccination rate is 45 per cent. Health officials and administrators point to a trend among marginalised communities, including Dalits and Adivasis, of members being left behind in the vaccination drive-a clear case of vaccine inequity in a country that is rife with divisions along the lines of caste, class, community and gender, among others.

There is no overstating the fact that optimum immunity against the coronavirus is impossible to reach unless each of us is vaccinated. Vaccination, therefore, is a collective responsibility-that of the state and the citizens. But what of those who have little knowledge about the whats and whys of the vaccine?

It is the state's responsibility to ensure that those who hesitate to get jabbed or do not know about the vaccination drive altogether are addressed through a robust information campaign. The state may think it has fulfilled its responsibility by using caller ringback tones or media campaigns to invite people to get vaccinated, but that is not enough. In a country that still reels under considerable illiteracy, the state cannot just remain content with lofty ideas of media campaigning alone.

There is no doubt that the media plays an effective role in disseminating information widely and quickly; however, more often than not, citizens have little time or cognitive interest to decipher the messages the media campaigns are trying to convey.

Moreover, there are those who need consistent in-person explanation and counselling for them to understand what it means to get fully vaccinated against a virus. It is this information gap that the state needs to fulfil by adopting a unique, needs-based information dissemination approach. This necessitates a decentralised information dissemination apparatus that addresses each individual even in far-flung areas.

One way to do this is to deploy health volunteers and local level representatives to conduct a house-to-house campaign so that citizens make the effort to visit vaccination centres for their own safety and that of others around them. It is those who have the least agency who need state support the most, the state cannot rest unless the last unvaccinated citizen gets the jab.

  • The Kathmandu Post is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 23 news media organisations.

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