Vaccine campaign is underway in Pakistan since February 2021. The National Command and Operation Center (NCOC) Khyber Pakhtunkhwa reported a daily Covid-19 positivity rate of 11.7% Four districts reported a seven-day positive cases of greater than 20% (Malakand at 25%,followed by Mardan at 22% and Peshawar and Nowshera at 21%). But with the increase in the number of Covid-19 cases, the number of people receiving the Covid-19vaccine is also increasing. Vaccines have been administered in most of the institutions of the country including schools and colleges. But false and misleading news and rumors are still circulating about the vaccine.
The Sikh, Hindu, and Christians in Peshawar fear that the vaccine could harm their health and that of their children. But despite this fear and apprehension, these religious minorities got vaccinated due to the restrictions imposed by the government, e.g., ban on travel without vaccine certificate, ban on entry to all private and public institutions and restriction to enter in prayer places etc.
Anjali Kumar who works as a teacher in an educational institution, belongs to the Hindu community. Referring to the events that happened in Covid-19 pandemic, she says that the worst experience during pandemic was of her brother’s wedding. Anjali says that she has only one brother and was very happy for his wedding, but her family could not enjoy it because her father, Subhash Kumar, got infected with Covid-19. She says, “we also faced financial problems throughout the pandemic.”
In response to the question asked about Covid-19vaccine, she says that as a teacher and a government employee, it was necessary for her to get vaccinated. Anjali says that after vaccination her menstrual cycle was affected, “after vaccination, I used to bleed a lot during my period and my period would last for many days and I would feel very weak, whereas before the vaccination my periods were normal.” Regarding the booster dose of covid-19vaccine, she says that there is currently no intention of getting the shot, but if the government pushes like in the past, she will definitely go for it.
According to Radish Singh Tony, Official spokesperson for minorities, the number of Hindus in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is about 7,000 to 8,000,while the number of Sikh communities is between 20,000 and 25,000. Where most of the children are not yet registered, they are not counted, but if the Sikh community is included, their number is more than 40,000.
When Dr. Iftikhar, Director NCOC, was asked about the special arrangements for vaccination of minorities, whether some special arrangements were made for the minority community or not? In response to this question, he said that there is no difference between majority and the minority community, therefore, the same arrangements were made for everyone. Whether it’s the vaccination process or the arrangements made for patients with Covid-19 virus, everything was unbiased. He further says that there are various rumors among the people regarding the vaccine, such as “this is a conspiracy and agenda to reduce the population or harm the lives of the people.” He clarified that, “all these rumors are based on a lie, so we all have to think like a nation and cooperate with the government.” He further adds that, “The vaccine’s job is to make antibodies in the human body to fight the Covid-19 virus. The vaccine does not kill anyone but gives the body the power to fight against the disease. Since most people are unaware and uneducated so, the government had to impose strict restrictions so that people can be vaccinated and even after the vaccination if they have Covid-19positive, they can recover soon.”
Saeed Khan, a local businessman of Christian community from Peshawar, says that his life has been deeply impacted by the Covid-19 virus and the lock-down phases that it brought along itself. “Due to lock-down, marketplaces were shut down and my only way of earning was shut. It brought economic misery and I had to live hand to mouth during the first two lock-downs. I took vaccines as soon as they were available in the market, but vaccinating myself did not help much, because even after getting vaccines the government announced another lock-down. I could not understand the use of vaccines when the government had to put in place a lock-down even after that. But,since now life is coming back to normal and things are settling, I am happy and satisfied about the turnaround of events,” he says and further explains, “many say we defeated covid-19 pandemic because we developed herd immunity and got vaccines, if they are right then vaccines must be a good thing. I am not much educated so I am not much aware of its efficacy. But, since vaccination was mandatory for my kids to go back to school and for me to open my shop back, we all took it.”
Tayyaba Masih, who works in a private company, says that in the company where she works, the Chief Executive told everyone that they should be vaccinated to stay in the office. After this announcement, all the employees got afraid of the consequences of the vaccines, “what if they die somewhere after this vaccine, what will happen to their children?” Tayyaba Masih says and explains that the fear was dues to the existing widely circulated rumor on death in two years after vaccination. She further adds that, “Some of the girls in our office were newly married their husbands forbade them to get vaccinated and as (supposedly) they would become infertile and would never be able to have children after getting vaccination. Rumors spread in the office that the vaccine was a US conspiracy.” Furthermore, she says that “Similarly, while this conversation was going on, I also got scared and decided that I would not vaccinate myself nor would I tell my family to get vaccinated. But later in the office our manager was very strict. He himself was vaccinated and then he came to the office and told everyone but no one acted on his words. On the one hand, I was afraid of what would happen to my family if I lost my job because our economic situation was bad.”She also expressed that, “Abu’s (father’s) shop was also not doing well, after which I was forced to convince my family and got vaccinated. After taking both doses of the vaccine, I got my Covid-19 certificate to save my job. There was no change in my body after the vaccination and I was normal as before, after which I persuaded my family and now my whole family is vaccinated.”
Her concluding remarks were that “I realized that this vaccine is to save our lives, not to kill us. So, I want to give a message to people to get vaccinated and save their lives. I also took this vaccine under government pressure but now I am happy with my decision.”