India has stepped up efforts to bolster trust in coronavirus vaccines after it was revealed that nearly one-third of those invited to receive the vaccine at the launch of a nationwide drive failed to turn up.
The government confirmed late on Monday that two post-vaccination deaths had been reported.
One was a 52-year-old man who the health ministry said died on Saturday in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh from “cardiopulmonary disease” and not the injection.
In the second incident, a 43-year-old man, resident of Bellary in Karnataka state, suffered a heart attack after receiving the vaccine.
In a statement to Al Jazeera on January 20, Indian government’s spokesman Kuldeep Singh Dhatwalia said he also died of “cardiopulmonary failure as per the post-mortem report”.
India began one of the world’s most ambitious vaccination programmes last week, aiming to inoculate 300 million of its population of 1.3 billion by July.
On Wednesday, the health ministry said a total of 786,842 health workers had been vaccinated and 82 “adverse events” were reported among them. The government said that over the first three days of vaccinations, 580 people had reported adverse symptoms.
The vaccination drive, however, which started on Saturday, saw a slow start. In the first three days, the government said 381,305 vaccinations were administered.
In the capital New Delhi, only 53 percent of the people expected came for the shots, according to a health official.
“These are initial days and we understand people are waiting to see how the procedure pans out and how other vaccines fare,” said Suneela Garg, a member of the coronavirus task force for the capital.
“These numbers will go up as confidence is strengthened. And for that, we have to tackle misinformation.”
The Hindu newspaper reported that in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, turnout was only 16 percent.
At a community health centre in Rohtak district in the northern state of Haryana, only 29 out of 100 people expected showed up, a doctor there told AFP news agency.
“People are very scared. We can’t force anyone to take the vaccine, it is voluntary,” said the doctor, speaking on condition of anonymity.
With public doubt about the drugs spreading on social media, Minister of Health Harsh Vardhan changed his Twitter profile header to say “VACCINES WORK”.
“From the very beginning, we have warned people not to be worried about this misinformation that is being spread,” Vardhan told media.
Government spokesman Dhatwalia termed the vaccination programme a “big success” and said the healthcare workers are also coming forward to get the shot.
“The misinformation being spread against the vaccines manufactured in India are without any base. The vaccines manufactured in India are both safe and immunogenic,” he said.
India has the world’s second-largest number of coronavirus cases, almost 10.5 million.
It has so far approved two vaccines for use: the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine manufactured by an Indian company, and a domestic vaccine developed by Bharath Biotech which has yet to complete clinical trials.