Govt asks states to take penal action for vaccine-related rumour mongering

States including Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal, have administered the jab to more than 100,000 people each
As India comes close to vaccinating almost two million health workers within 10 days of the vaccination drive, states have been asked to take penal action against any person or organisation who indulges in vaccine-related rumour mongering.

Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla, in a letter to chief secretaries of all states and union territories, has asked for an appropriate mechanism to be put in place to check the spread of ill-informed rumours. The letter directs all authorities concerned to take necessary measures to counter the spread of false information about Covid-19 vaccines and to promptly disseminate factual messages.

“Further penal action may be taken against a person or an organisation who is found to have indulged in such activities under the relevant provisions of the Disaster Management Act 2005 and Indian Penal Code 1860,” Bhalla said in a letter.

The home secretary emphasised the safety and immunogenicity of the two vaccines — Serum Institute of India’s Covishield and Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin — approved by the national regulatory authority.

“...It has been reported that unfounded and misleading rumours are circulating, in the social and other media, creating doubt about the safety and efficacy of these vaccines,” the letter read.

Bhalla said that such kind of scare mongering, particularly by vested interests, can create unwarranted doubts among people.

The government had launched the two vaccines across the country on January 16. On Monday, 334,679 beneficiaries were vaccinated through 7,171 sessions till 7.10 pm across all states and union territories. The total number of adverse events following immunisations were 348 and no severe case of such effects was reported, according to the health ministry.

Leading the states tally, Karnataka has so far vaccinated over 230,000 health workers. Odisha has vaccinated more than 177,000 beneficiaries, followed by Andhra Pradesh, which has given the shot to more than 155,000.

States including Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal, have administered the jab to more than 100,000 people each.

The health ministry, too, has launched a campaign to counter rumour mongering around vaccines, including a message that uses the lyrics from a Kishore Kumar song: Kuchh toh log kahenge, logon ka kaam hai kehna…

A series of posters released by the health ministry had experts such as V K Paul of Niti Aayog saying, “You are aware that I have taken Covaxin and I have zero side-effects. Data shows that these two vaccines are safe safe safe.”

Another tagline is: “Bimari se darein, teeke se nahin (Be scared of the illness, not the vaccine).” And a message by Randeep Guleria, director of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi, goes, “If we want to get over this pandemic, socially and economically, vaccines are important…”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, too, recently interacted with the vaccinators and beneficiaries of the Covid vaccine to share their experiences and dispel vaccine hesitancy among people.

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