Guwahati: As Manipur heads to the polls next month and amid a surge in cases, the low vaccination rate in the state is a cause for concern.
According to state administration officials, these low percentages are partly attributable to human behavior, namely reluctance to vaccinate, and partly to discrepancies in Manipur’s population data. This means that there may be a difference between Manipur’s actual vaccination rate and the number reflected on CoWin, the government’s official tracking portal.
According to data from CoWin, Manipur is the third worst performing state when it comes to vaccination against Covid-19. Only 56% of the population received the first dose, while 43% of the population received the second dose. According to the portal, the state is doing better than Nagaland (48% for the first dose, 36% for the second dose) and Meghalaya (55% for the first dose, 40% for the second dose).
However, V. Vumlunmang, Additional Chief Secretary (Health) in Manipur, told ThePrint that the low rate is attributable to the Union Health Ministry’s population targets exceeding the actual number of people in the state.
“Its (Union Ministry target is) based on population percentage as provided by the Registrar General of India (RGI). When we spoke to them they said it was an estimate and there could be a difference of a few thousand dollars. For a state like ours where the numbers are low, a few lakhs makes a very big difference,” Vumlunmang said.
According to him, vaccination percentages based on electoral data can provide a more accurate picture. Using the election data, about 69% of Manipur’s population received the first dose while 52% received the second dose so far, Vumlunmang said, adding that these figures need to be improved.
ThePrint emailed the Union Department of Health and Family Welfare about the “discrepancy” in the data. The report will be updated when there is a response.
Manipur recorded 235 Covid cases on January 17 and 279 on January 16. The number was 158, 116 and 155 the previous three days.
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A controversy over demographics has simmered since the 2001 census in Manipur, a state whose history has been marked by tensions between the ethnic Meitei population who dominate the valley region and the tribesmen who mainly occupy the hill districts. .
Essentially, the 2001 census recorded extremely high population growth in the hill districts (up to 169 percent), increasing their population share vis-à-vis the valley. Several civil society groups in the valley disputed this. There was also opposition to the Center’s attempts to roll out delimitation (the process of delimiting parliamentary or assembly constituencies) in the state based on this data, which resulted in protracted legal battles.
In 2005, the Gauhati High Court issued a judgment stating that a re-count of people should be carried out in nine sub-divisions of three hill districts, but the Supreme Court later stayed this direction.
Concretely, this currently means that the local count and the vaccination targets of the Ministry of Health are in contradiction.
The state immunization officer, Dr Manihar Singh, told ThePrint that at the block level, there is a difference of about four lakh between the projected and actual population of adults eligible for immunization.
“At the bloc level, the number of people is around 19.37 lakh while the target set by the Union Health Ministry is 23.41 lakh,” Singh said.
“We have raised this issue with the Union Ministry. In my opinion, election data is more reliable,” he said.
According to Vumlunmang, the ministry recognized the data problem, but even taking this into account, the vaccination rate needed to be improved. “Sixty-nine percent is still not 100%. Our effort must continue,” he said.
Low vaccination coverage in the hills
According to district CoWin data viewed by ThePrint, the mountainous regions of Manipur lag behind the valley in vaccination coverage.
Nine of the state’s 10 mountainous districts rank among the lowest in terms of vaccination coverage. In Kamjong, Pherzawl, Senapati, Ukhrul and Kangpokpi districts, for example, first dose coverage was between 34.6% and 20.11%, while second dose coverage was between 32% and 13.4%.
According to Singh, the data issue was a factor in Kangpokpi, the district with the lowest vaccination coverage.
“Kangpokpi was separated in 2016 from Senapati district…but now has a higher population than Senapati according to the target set by the ministry. It’s almost impossible,” he said.
According to Ministry of Health data viewed by ThePrint, while the target population in Kangpokpi is 2,26,948, the target in Senapati is only 97,654.
However, the hill districts also pose other challenges.
“There are [vaccine] hesitation in the neighboring districts of Nagaland. During the second wave, fortunately, these regions were not very positive. So the villagers would ask us, ‘Why are you bothering us?’ Naga villages and remote villages just don’t want to get vaccinated,” Vumlunmang said.
According to him, the government had reached all the villages to try to vaccinate everyone.
Officials pointed out that some districts have achieved very high vaccination coverage (based on voter roll), including nearly 100% in Jiribam and over 80% in Imphal East and Imphal West.
Covid cases are currently increasing in Manipur, as in the rest of the country, with a positivity rate of 11.9% on Monday. Vumlunmang said the chief secretary held a review meeting on Monday. “Each district, deputy commissioner has been tasked with giving a big boost [to vaccinations] within the limits of voluntary choice. We are really going to take it on a war footing,” he said.
(Editing by Asavari Singh)
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