Masrat Farid, a young health worker, has walked long distances through Himalayan meadows in Indian Kashmir to vacate nomadic herders. This was part of a campaign that began in June. She says her challenge is not the treacherous terrain but convincing people to get inoculated against coronavirus.
Farid stated that rumors seem to reach us earlier than we do. This was during a recent vaccination campaign at a high-altitude meadow. Farid said that most people are reluctant to get vaccinated due to rumors.
The rumors are numerous.
Many residents, especially in remote areas, are misinformed and mistrustful and believe the vaccines can cause impotence, severe side effects, and even death. Others simply claim they don’t require the shots as they are immune to the coronavirus.
Despite this, Kashmir is doing better than India. Farid, one of many health workers in the region, has vaccinated more than 9% of eligible residents of the 14 million-strong population. This compares to India’s 1.4 billion citizens who have vaccinated less than 5%. Nearly 53% of Kashmiris have received their first shots.
Mukhti Khan is an elderly woman who belonged to a family that has traveled for centuries between the highlands and lowlands, herding their horses, goats and sheep.
Mukhti expressed gratitude to a medical team that visited the remote village where her extended family had camped with their cattle. They can walk to the village, but they must travel for hours to get to the nearest town in case of an emergency.
She said, “It would be quite an effort to travel to the town to get vaccinations,” as she received her first shot.
The health workers have also been subject to hostility, apart from their hesitancy.
Farid, who has vaccinated more than 800 people so far, said that there are “places where our colleagues have been assaulted”.
Fears that video footage taken by officials during the vaccination campaign could be used to encourage support for India’s government, which many Kashmiris hate deeply, led to some attacks. Many want independence or a merger of Pakistan and neighboring Pakistan, which holds another part Kashmir. Both countries claim all of the disputed territory.