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Tuesday 21, January 2020
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Vaccine acceptance

Hesitancy to vaccines pushes back achievements made in reducing the burden of infectious diseases.

Hesitancy to vaccines pushes back achievements made in reducing the burden of infectious diseases. It not only puts the unimmunised child at risk to an avoidable sickness, disability and death but also the other children and adults around him. For, the vaccination programme works on the herd immunity principle. Thus, the importance of 90 per cent immunisation coverage, which the Union Government aims to attain by March next year under the Intensified Mission Indradhanush 2.0. The target is to vaccinate children below two years and pregnant women against eight vaccine-preventable diseases. Though a majority of the people have been routinely covered over the years, the gap is challenging. India still accounts for the maximum number of unimmunised children — 7.4 million. In addition, with the country recording the largest number of births in the world — over 26 million a year —  and the high mortality rate, the logistics become formidable. 

A significant hurdle in the way of spreading the much-needed health cover is the refusal of some families and communities to take vaccination. This stems from unfounded rumours that the injections and drops are a trick of the government to control population. Riding on illiteracy, poor health system and, to some measure, mistrust of the government, the myth has gained currency.

Therefore, enhanced focus on farflung areas and clusters resistant to taking vaccines is essential for the programme to succeed. Engagement with skeptical communities is necessary to educate them about the absolute necessity of this cost-effective medical intervention that has successfully eradicated many diseases that were commonly a scourge to our forefathers. In this regard, the performance of Haryana's Mewat and Palwal is exemplary. Winning over the confidence of some sarpanches and youth of the areas in the past two has years has played a huge role in the steep hike in coverage from 13 to 68 per cent. It's a sure-footed move towards a universal and resilient health system. India can overcome the hindrances. It did so when polio was eradicated from the country in 2014. And, has remained polio-free as vaccinations continue.

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