SRINAGAR, India (AP) – Young health worker Masrat Farid has hiked long distances through remote Himalayan meadows in Indian-controlled Kashmir in a campaign launched in June to vaccinate nomadic herders. Your challenge is not the treacherous terrain, but to convince people to get vaccinated against the corona virus.
“Everywhere we go, rumors seem to arise earlier than we do, and that makes our work difficult,” Farid said recently during a vaccination campaign on a high mountain meadow. She said that most of the people are hesitant to get vaccinated because of the rumors.
And the rumors are plentiful.
Driven by misinformation and suspicion, many local residents, especially in remote areas, believe that the vaccines could cause impotence, serious side effects, and even fatal consequences. Some just say they don’t need the syringes because they are immune to the coronavirus.
Still, Kashmir has fared better than the rest of India. Numerous health workers like Farid have fully vaccinated over 9% of eligible people among the region’s 14 million people, compared with less than 5% for India’s nearly 1.4 billion people. Almost 53% in Kashmir got a first shot.
Mukhti Khan, an elderly woman, belongs to a nomad family who has been walking between summer pastures and winter pastures in the lowlands for centuries, tending their goats, sheep and horses.
One recent day, Mukhti expressed her gratitude when a medical team visited the village near the remote pasture where she and her extended family camped with their cattle. You can walk to the village but will have to walk for hours to the nearest town in the event of a medical emergency.
“It would have been a hassle to go into town to get the vaccination,” she said when she received her first vaccination.
Aside from the hesitation, health workers also face hostility.
“There are places where our colleagues have been attacked,” said Farid, who has vaccinated over 800 people so far.
Some of the attacks were fueled by fears that videos of vaccination campaign officials could be used by authorities to promote support for the Indian government, which many Kashmiris deeply detest. Most want independence or a merger with neighboring Pakistan, which controls another part of Kashmir. Both countries claim the entire disputed area.