In a campaign launched in June, Masrat Farid, a young health worker, traveled a long distance through the remote Himalayan meadows of Kashmir under the jurisdiction of India to vaccinate nomads. She said her challenge is not the dangerous terrain, but to persuade people to be vaccinated with the coronavirus.
“No matter where we go, the rumors seem to come earlier than us, which makes our work difficult,” Farid said during a recent vaccination campaign on high-altitude grasslands. She said that because of rumors, most people are reluctant to get the vaccine.
And there are many rumors.
Driven by misinformation and mistrust, many residents, especially those in remote areas, believe that the vaccine will cause impotence, serious side effects, and possibly even death. Some people just say that they do not need to be vaccinated because they are immune to the coronavirus.
Nevertheless, Kashmir is doing better than the rest of India.
Among the 14 million people in the region, dozens of health workers such as Farid have vaccinated more than 9% of eligible people, compared to less than 5% of India’s nearly 1.4 billion people. Nearly 53% of people in the Himalayas had their first shot.
Mukhti Khan is an elderly woman who belongs to a nomadic family and has been traveling between summer alpine pastures and winter pastures in the lowland plains for centuries, herding goats, sheep and horses.
Recently, Mukhti expressed her gratitude because a medical team visited the village near the remote ranch where she and her extended family were grazing cattle.
They can walk to the village, but they must walk for several hours to get to the nearest town to deal with any medical emergencies.
“It would be very laborious to go to town to get vaccinated,” she said at the first injection.
In addition to hesitation, health workers also face hostility.
“Our colleagues were attacked in some places,” said Farid, who has vaccinated more than 800 people so far.
Some attacks were due to fears that the authorities might use videos taken by vaccination campaign officials to encourage support for the Indian government, which most Kashmiris hate.
Many people want independence or merger with neighboring Pakistan, which manages another part of Kashmir. Both countries claim to own the entire disputed territory.