The Covid-19 inoculation drive has been fairly successful in the major cities with more and more people registering for the vaccine and getting the dates for inoculation quite quickly. The progress in the small towns and rural areas, however, has not been very encouraging. Even though the government has ensured that the vaccine is available in these areas, people are not coming to the centres. Two main barriers seem to be in the way—lack of access to online registration and lack of awareness regarding why people need to get vaccinated.
In small towns and rural areas, many people do not have access to Internet services or simply have no idea how to register online. According to a report by this paper, among the eight divisions, the lowest number of people vaccinated till Tuesday was in Barishal with only 63,659 doses used from the allocated 3.48 doses. Meanwhile, in Dhaka, the highest number of people vaccinated was recorded—around 3.75 lakh. The Barishal divisional health director has cited slow Internet, lack of communication and lack of awareness as reasons behind the low number of people registering. This is the case in many other areas too.
But even in centres where there is an arrangement for on-the-spot registration, the expected number of people are not turning up. It is great that in some areas, the government is arranging door-to-door registration services conducted by health workers, which should significantly increase the registration numbers. The biggest hurdle, however, is gaining people's interest and trust in the vaccine. In areas where infection rates are low, people think that the pandemic is over and there is no reason to be vaccinated. Others are suspicious of the vaccine feeding into the misinformation and negative propaganda in social media or other informal information channels. It is unfortunate that the government did not think of these bottlenecks before the inoculation started. But now that we know where the problems are, we must act very fast as it is crucial to get everyone vaccinated within a certain period to ensure that everyone is safe.
People all over the country have to be made aware that the pandemic is not over, that infections may rise again if health guidelines are flouted, that the virus can spread very fast and cause deaths, and that it is crucial that everyone gets vaccinated so that the pandemic is kept at bay. The online registration has worked well in the cities because there are more people who are educated and have access to Internet. Others can get Internet services from shops. But this is not the case in rural areas or even small towns.
The government must take immediate steps to ensure access to online registration either by ramping up the door-to-door services or having all vaccination centres ready to do on-the-spot registration. Provisions also have to be made for those who do not possess either NID numbers or birth certificates to be registered for inoculation. As with other national immunisation programmes, the Covid-19 vaccine must be available to everyone.