It is the VIP constituency of Congress interim president Sonia Gandhi’s constituency, with a large rural population of almost 85%. Raebareli however has another tag that it is desperately trying to get rid of – it is the district with the lowest vaccination rate as per population in the state of Uttar Pradesh and maybe even the country.
Against a projected population of almost 39 lakh as on date, only 2.12 lakh jabs have been given in Raebareli. Considering that 1.81 lakh of them are first doses, only about 4.6% of the district’s population has got jabbed so far. This is almost half of UP’s average vaccination coverage of about nine per cent of the population so far. Worse, just 32,263 people have got the second jab in Raebareli, meaning less than one per cent of the town’s population is fully vaccinated so far.
News18 met one such rare couple at the main district hospital in Raebareli town, where barely 20 people were present on Friday at 11 am to get jabbed. “We got our first jab in April and today got our second jabs. There is lot of vaccine hesitancy here. In fact so many people told us to not come and get the second jab,” 69-year-old Dinesh Bahadur Singh, a retired employee of ITI Ltd in Raebareli said. His wife, Jyotima Singh (65) recounted how her sister paid Rs 900 for a jab in Delhi at a private hospital. “It is free here, why not get it?” she says.
Dinesh Bahadur Singh along with his wife Jyotima Singh
The crowd is even thinner at Community Health Centre in Amawan in the interiors of Raebareli. Gulab Kali Devi, 75, was patiently waiting here for her second jab as the staff kept an eye on more people arriving in before they could open the vial that contains 10 shots, lest attract wastage.
Seventy-five-year-old Gulab Kali Devi
People in her son Surendra Pratap Singh’s village are resisting the jab. “If people get fever after the first jab, they start demotivating others to go for it. But I got both my aged parents double-vaccinated,” Singh says. “We have to motivate people a lot, especially of the 45+ category,” says a nurse here, as she starts makes a few phone calls from her cell phone to people whose second doses are due, to turn up.
Politicians Should Show the Way
Virendra Singh, who got his 24-year-old daughter Deeksha for her first shot at the Raebareli district hospital blames the confusion caused by politicians for the hesitancy among people. “Most Yadavs and Muslims in my village said they would not take the jabs after Akhilesh Yadav said earlier that he would not take the vaccine,” Singh said. Rae Bareli MP Sonia Gandhi has taken both doses of the vaccine, Congress said recently, but locals here seem unaware of the same. “We did not see her picture of taking the vaccine. Gandhi can issue an appeal to people of Raebareli to take jabs. Maybe it helps,” a student Nitin Mohan said.
The chief medical superintendent at the hospital, NK Shrivastava, admits to some resistance among locals and various misconceptions. “Villagers come and ask me before taking the vaccine if they will have to stay indoors for three days after taking a shot. Taking advance registration for 18-44 category is also an issue for some apart from misinformation on social media. We try and remove the doubts of people,” he says. The Chief Medical Officer of Rae Bareli, Virendra Kumar Singh says things are improving now after the initial hiccups.
“There was some hesitancy in the 45+ category but position is improving now. From July, we are planning a big increase in vaccination,” Singh says. However, only about 3300 people were vaccinated in Raebareli on Friday and only 2700-odd people received jabs in the district on the earlier two days. The nearly 85% rural population of the district, spread over 4000 square kilometers, is making the challenge tougher at 89 vaccination centers in Raebareli.
A group of four young friends who turned up at the Amawan CHC to get the jabs put the matter in perspective. “When people came for testing in our village, the local ran away. So to expect them to travel a few kilometers to get the vaccine is a tall task. We came as we know without a vaccine, we may not be able to go abroad and we do not want to contract Covid,” Mithlesh Singh, a student among them said.
The staff here also said response is much better in the 18-44 group. Nearly 46,000 people of the 18-44 age group have got vaccinated in Rae Bareli since jabs were opened for this category from May 1.