COVID: Rumors make it difficult to vaccinate Kashmir nomads Kashmir News


Young health worker Masrat Farid has traveled long distances through remote meadows from the Himalayas to Kashmir administered by India to vaccinate nomadic pastoralists in a campaign launched in June. Her challenge is not treacherous terrain, she says, but to persuade people to inoculate themselves against the coronavirus.

“Everywhere we go, it seems like rumors are coming before us and it’s making our job harder,” Farid said during a recent vaccination campaign in a high-altitude meadow. He said most people are hesitant to get vaccinated because of the rumors.

And rumors abound.

Fueled by misinformation and mistrust, many residents, especially in remote areas, believe vaccines cause impotence, serious side effects and can even kill. Some simply say they don’t need the vaccines because they are immune to the coronavirus.

Still, Kashmir has fared better than the rest of India.

A large number of health workers like Farid have completely vaccinated more than 9% of eligible people among the 14 million people in the region, compared to less than 5% of the nearly 1.4 billion people in India. Nearly 53 percent in the Himalayan region has had a first shot.

Mukhti Khan, an elderly woman, belongs to a family of nomads who have traveled for centuries between summer mountain pastures and winter pastures on the lowland plains, grazing their goats, sheep and horses.

Recently, Mukhti expressed her gratitude when a medical team visited the village near the remote pasture where she and her extended family camped with their cattle.

They can travel on foot to the village, but have to walk for hours to the nearest town for any medical emergency.

“It would have been quite an effort to go into town to get vaccinated,” he said as he received the first shot.

Aside from hesitation, health workers have also faced hostility.

“There are places where our comrades have been attacked,” said Farid, who has so far vaccinated more than 800 people.

Some of the attacks were caused by fears that videos made by vaccination campaign officials could be used by authorities to encourage support for the Indian government, which most Kashmiris deeply dislike.

Many want independence or a merger with neighboring Pakistan, which administers another part of Kashmir. Both countries claim the entire disputed territory.

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