Sana Rauf

‘Paaras Center’, a temporary facility near Faisalabad International Airport was beholding a bizarre hustle as several passengers from international flights were brought there. These passengers were helped by doctors and paramedics.While stepping inside, the element of fear was absolutely occupying their minds and was visible on their faces. This was the tense situation across the globe due to the emergence of Covid-19. The citizens flying in from different countries were being quarantined in the center, established away from city centers, so that they could be treated in case of any Covid-19 symptoms, and to ensure the protection of the rest of the population against the disastrous pandemic that was causing gigantic destruction in other countries.

Not only the passengers, but ordinary citizens were also spellbound by the fear.The roads, used by the vehicles carrying the infected people, were disinfected.Other than doctors, youth was also encouraging the affected people to keep their morals high.

Abdul Rauf was among this youth group, who in individual capacity and sometimes working with some organizations, used to meet these patients to provide them with food or to comfort their minds by organizing various sports.

When contacted, Abdul Rauf described the situation at that time as very strange,adding that the people were scared and used to stay at distance with each other in the beginning and it was necessary to motivate them.

“Inline with the administration, I used to consult with the patients to get their issues resolved. The suspected patients appeared normal, however, were kept in separation to ensure their protection as there was no vaccine at that time and affected people were being quarantined till corona systems vanished. After their recovery, once they were allowed to go to their homes using government vehicles, they started facing isolation, as people used to avoid contacting them due to fear,” Rauf narrated the ordeal.

In Faisalabad district, total 37 Covid-19 vaccination centers (CVC) have been established, of which eleven are in Faisalabad city, two in Saddar, whereas a few are working in the outskirts. In addition, seven CVCs have been working in Tandlianwala, eight in Jaranwala, three in Chak Jhumra and six in Samundari tehsils to facilitate the large population of Faisalabad district. Out of 3 million population of Faisalabad, majority has received first vaccine doses, and now getting second doses.

Initially,various contrasting opinions kept appearing regarding safety of the vaccine.There were campaigns and videos on social media which misinformed public that vaccine was injurious to human health as it generates “current voltages” inhuman body. In several videos, people were filmed holding magnet sticks or bulb slit on the human body. Once rejected another rumor spanned that vaccination makes humans impotent regardless of sex discrimination. A number of people also believed that death is inevitable two years after the vaccination. Number of public and religious authorities issued various statements and edicts in account of vaccination that were accepted or rejected by the public.

Nauman,a small entrepreneur informed that his business got completely shut down during Covid’s first wave. While staying at home, he encountered various social media content, especially on Facebook and YouTube, which made him convinced about the severe side effects of the vaccination. When the government introduced are laxation in the lock-down situation, Covid-19 vaccination certificate was made mandatory in compliance with Covid-19 Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs).

Despite hesitation, Nauman commented, he had to receive first dose of Covid-19vaccination. “Having no reaction, I got the second dose too and now my whole family is vaccinated,” he informs.  

When interviewed, Syed Husnain Sherazi, Chairman Azadari Council Faisalabad, a Shia organization, informed that people from various walks of life hold different opinions about the vaccination which is their right.  As far as religious clergy is concerned,various religious leaders representing various schools of thought stressed on getting vaccination to protect human lives, except a few.

“Friday sermons also were used as one of the ways to convince people for getting vaccines, and it helped a lot, Sherazi says, adding that people also had misconceptions that they will die in two years after receiving vaccine or become impotent . “I believe the religious clergy helped build the confidence of people in doctors and medical sciences in defeating Covid-19,” he explains.

Faisalabadis also a home for a large number of Christian community. To seek their perception on the vaccination the reporter held a sitting with Clara Rani who played an active role in getting Christian women vaccinated.

Clara Rani believed that being servants to the church, she made exhaustive efforts to take Christian women out of their homes and receive vaccination. We used to counsel them to attend the camps being organized by the Church.   

“Currently,the vaccine is free but later they may have to pay, and soon the government will make is mandatory,” Clara describes one of their advocacy tactics.  We used different arguments including scaring them for being disconnected from the telecommunication services because the government had made it mandatory to register with the vaccination program from their SIM cards.

“Still there are laggards in the community and not taking the vaccine seriously. They received their first dose, but now rejecting for the second dose,” says Clara.When asked for the reason, she said mostly they don’t want to acknowledge the dangers of Covid-10 and need further advocacy.

Sonia Patras, a representative of a non-governmental organization disclosed that several hurdles were there in convincing people for vaccine. “Their organization reached held sessions with 3,700 Christian women, but still around 1,000 did not receive,” Sonia informed.

Faisalabad activists who have been part of vaccination drive with the government is of the view that people, who were initially scared of the vaccine due to misinformation later realized that vaccine has no hazards, hence more people are inclined towards it now.

Azeem Samson, a preaching elder from Church says that “My thoughts about Covid-19vaccination are same as for any other vaccination, that it is necessary and important to get vaccinated against covid-19 as a safety precaution.” He emphasized that if it was in his control, he wouldn’t have made Covid-19vaccines a compulsory per-requisite for other daily life activities such as entering the mall or traveling. However, as such compulsions have been imposed by the government there is no other choice then to get vaccinated as instructed by the government. He further said that there is another angle we should keep in mind that “if by getting vaccinated I am protecting others as well then it’s a really good decision to be vaccinated because it only protects my health but also of those around me, it is an act of well-being.”

Moving on he said that all three doses of vaccine are essential, he himself has got all the shots including the booster dose as well. He said that he preaches this to his followers in the church as well. He helped others to get their vaccination cards made and put a picture of his card on a board inside the church to encourage others to be vaccinated.

He said that conspiracy theories and fake propaganda are attached to vaccines such as with polio vaccine even though its effectiveness is clear. “It is the responsibility of the religious scholars and preachers to act as myth busters instead of promoting such ideology,” he believes. He also said that as there is no evidence that the Covid-19 vaccine cause infertility, so spreading such misinformation is a “sin and morally incorrect.” Religious leaders should not be a part of such propaganda, he shares and adds that in the Christian community it was widely promoted to get vaccinated, vaccination was encouraged by all Christian teachers and scholars.

Edited by: Anwer Abbas