The Northeastern states of India are unfortunately having to deal with a very toxic form of vaccine hesitancy – one which stems from religious dogmatism and one which is very difficult to eradicate. In Christian-majority states of the Northeast, vaccine hesitancy among the elderly population seems to be strikingly high. While the youth of the region is in tandem with the rest of the country in struggling to book an appointment for themselves to get vaccinated, individuals above the age of 45 are appearing to be very hesitant, or rather, averse to the idea of Covid-19 vaccines.
Rumour mills are operating in full swing, and fake messages of the vaccines being a sign of ‘Satan’ are circulating in the Christian majority states of the region, particularly in Nagaland and Meghalaya. Tripura – with a fairly less tribal and Christian population, is doing exceptionally well in inoculating its citizens. Almost 90 per cent of all beneficiaries above the age of 45 have been vaccinated in Tripura.
The corresponding number in Meghalaya, Nagaland and Manipur, however, is merely 30 per cent. In Manipur’s hilly districts – which is where the Christians form a significant chunk of the population – state officials have claimed that they are having to face higher vaccine hesitancy. According to a report by Scroll, religious dogma in the Northeast is greatly hampering the vaccination campaign in the region.
Nagaland’s state immunisation officer Ritu Thurr was quoted by the publication as saying, “To be honest, there was a lot of hesitancy in the first and second phase.” Most of it, he said, stemmed from “unnecessary social media messages. The vaccine carried satanic number, blah blah…very funny funny things.” Nagaland has a Christian population of 90 per cent.
In Meghalaya, too, fringe Christian groups have been linking the vaccine with an “evil force”. Reverend Kyrsoibor Pyrtuh of the Khasi-Jaintia Presbyterian Church said, “There is this idea among certain fringe groups that the vaccine is also part of some sort of controlling mechanism.” Meghalaya has a 75 per cent Christian population. Religious and scientific misinformation even plagued Meghalaya’s healthcare workers – many of whom chose not to get vaccinated during the first phase.
Those spreading religious dogmatism in the Northeast must be booked under the most severe provisions of law and be put behind bars. By promoting a sense of aversion among ordinary citizens towards vaccines, religious and theological dogmatists are in fact leading the way in killing innocent citizens who do not subscribe to religious fanaticism.