Reported by: Sanjay Kumar Maharaj

COVID-19 has posed challenges causing a total of 29,029 deaths out of a total of 1,338,993 confirmed cases up till now, out of which 7,703 deaths have been from Sindh province, 13,091 from Punjab, 5,963 from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa,969 from Islamabad Capital Territory, and 749 from Azad Jammu and Kashmir.Despite this, the populations have low confidence in vaccine due to fear of severe side effects, rumors and unavailability of legal documents such as CNIC which is a prerequisite for the registration of vaccine. 

The government introduced COVID-19vaccine in February 2021 in Pakistan, and since then has administered over 162million doses, as per the data available on National Command and Operation Center. Vaccination process has been proven as shield against the deadliness of the virus. However, minorities like majority population are still vulnerable because of various rumors and disinformation about the vaccine. Pakistan is a country of over 220 million people with at least 4% minority groups. Hindus and Christians are the largest minorities whereas Sikh, Ahmadi, Zoroastrian, and others are also inconsiderable numbers.

Fear, rumors, and no IDs limiting Hindus’ access on vaccine in Sindh

Sindh is the province where Hindus have a concentration, especially in Tharparkar, Umerkot, Shikarpur, Ghotki, Sukkur, Hyderabad, and the neighboring districts.  As these are small communities, misinformation and disinformation spreads rapidly and people living in these communities easily become  victims of massive disinformation and misconception about the vaccine.

In this connection, journalistic field interviews were conducted in areas of Sanghar, Mirpurkhas, Umarkot and Tharparkar districts.  People from various age groups and gender were interviewed to know their perceptions in relation with vaccine confidence. Pakistan has administered at least166,837,089 doses of COVID vaccines so far. Assuming every person needs 2doses, that’s enough to have vaccinated about 38.5% of the country’s population.

The investigations found that one-third of Hindu minority population we interviewed are still to be vaccinated as majority of them cast doubt about the existence of coronavirus because of various rumors and misconceptions roaming around. The others feared the side effects of vaccination and lack of information on vaccine drive . No cases related to faith-based discrimination were reported by the Hindu population.

Aveenash Guriro, a member of Student Publication Society in ICMA Pakistan says Covid is a global threat that has affected the world in number of ways. “Getting vaccinated on topmost priority is beneficial for the loved ones and family members keeping them away from COVID-19threats. Rumors and misconceptions such as death after two years or so after receiving vaccine are frequently roaming around. One should not listen to them”,says Aveenash.

Other informed during the survey that COVID-19 vaccination enabled us in getting socialized without any fear,permitting students to go to schools, colleges and universities, worship without fear and bringing the life back to normalcy.

Health officers who were interviewed for this story termed the behavior of the citizens belonging to Hindu group as positive and cooperative;however, also indicated that still they are afraid of the vaccine. Another reason of denial or rejection stems in the widespread notion that COVID-19 is part of the global conspiracy to achieve the goal of reducing population or change the world demography based on religion. Some were of the belief that the pandemic has been engineered to get a hold on the foreign funding. Others also believed that the government vows to have more money from international community in the name of fighting pandemic.

Gender and age groups’ perception about vaccine

On the other hand, vaccinated Hindu citizens, especially youth between the ages of 18-28 were of the view that health professionals have been visiting Taluqas and villages to ensure everyone is vaccinated. “They are well aware to the benefits of vaccination and that helped them to get vaccinated”,tells a student from Sanghar.  There is also a tendency to join the bandwagon where they see others receiving vaccine.Most of the shopkeepers informed that as they interact with their customers on daily basis, the chances of getting infected are higher; that is why they preferred to be vaccinated on early basis.

Another reason for people, especially the government employees,getting vaccinated is the government’s policy pushing them to receive their vaccine shots as soon as possible. Two of the employees informed that they were forced for vaccination due to strict government’s regulations. 38 people from Hindu community between the ages 30-39 were interviewed and came to knowledge that three people got vaccinated due to the policies of the government.  Out of 38 citizens interviewed regarding this,13 failed to receive vaccine either because of element of fear or believing that they do not need any vaccine. 10 out of 13 were women that reflect a low tendency among Hindu women of getting vaccine.

In another village, Hindu citizens of age group 40-49, 10 out 25informed that they did not go for vaccination including 6 women out of the fear and widespread misinformation of non-existence of virus.  Five of them received vaccination because of the government’s pressure of ensuring vaccination.

Nine Hindu citizens of age group 50-59 were also questioned regarding vaccine confidence, who informed that due to fear of the side effects and rumors, they preferred to stay unvaccinated.  This age group in general has low tendency of getting vaccinated. Out of nine who avoided vaccine also included two women.

However, there are other issues, especially in the far flung and remote villages, when comes to confidence in vaccine, such as unavailability of legal documents. Score of people failed to access vaccine because they never applied for National ID cards, and the government asks for producing ID cards as necessary proof for vaccination. This issue has roots in illiteracy and unawareness about the benefits of corona vaccine.

Edited by Anwer Abbas