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Faith-based leaders vow to fight vaccine hesitancy  

Shillong, July 10: The faith-based leaders across Meghalaya have agreed to play a key role in battling vaccine hesitancy and spread of misinformation against Covid-19 pandemic.

An interactive zoom session was held in this regard on July 8 and over 150 leaders of various religious organisations from across the state participated.

Though the religious organisations have been playing an important role in sensitising the mass about Covid, vaccine hesitancy and misinformation, among other factors, have emerged as major deterrents to preventative care against Covid-19.

The session began with an online survey to assess the role of faith-based leaders in fulfilling a shared purpose to battle the pandemic.

70 per cent of faith-based leaders said that they were already taking actions against vaccine hesitancy and misinformation, while 30 per cent responded that they were willing to take actions but just did not know how to systematically go about doing the needful.

Majority of the religious leaders agreed that religion gives a sense of purpose and meaning during hard times. They also agreed that religion helps to mobilise people and act collectively, and make right moral decisions.

It was felt that in many far flung areas, where people still do not use smart phones and internet, religious places and congregations can act as crucial platforms for information dissemination and addressing concern and queries related to vaccine as well as Covid-19.

“In rural areas, people are often seen to be psychologically and emotionally affected due to closure of church services, as these give solace and guidance to them, especially during hard times”, said Rev. HCT Sumer from Jowai. “The government could come up with guidelines to allow conducting religious services based on vaccination status. Religious services can be used as platforms for sensitising people about Covid-19 as well as addressing vaccine hesitancy”.

“Though it may not be wise to open up religious institutions now, given the current scenario, pocket meetings could be held in various religious places where health experts could come in and address a limited number of people and their queries, while following all protocols”, suggested Noor Nongrum from Shillong Muslim Union.

“With awareness campaigns in local dialects, inclusion of influential villagers, public representatives, community members and religious leaders in busting myths around Covid-19 vaccination and encouraging people to take the jabs, the state government has been addressing widespread vaccine hesitancy against immunisation”, said  Sampath Kumar, Principal Secretary, Health.

An important highlight of discussion was the merger of faith & science to effectively communicate and sensitise masses.

During the course of the session, it was also revealed that many people were of the opinion that vaccination would lead to death or infertility and even minor side effects after the jabs triggered major panic among them. Several queries from participants were addressed by the principal secretary as well as the DCs and officials from DHS, NHM-Meghalaya and WHO.

“Public vaccination hesitancy is a matter of great concern and misinformation is the root cause. We have a serious responsibility to lead our people responsibly by removing all misinformation” said   R.M Blah, General Secretary, Federation of Traditional Village Leaders of Khasi & Jaintia Hills.

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