How Faith and Politics Mix in Vaccines

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Speaking to the CoWIN Global Conclave last month, Prime Minister Modi announced that the CoWin app will soon be made open source and available to all countries. While the Prime Minister wants to present the vaccine booking app as a model of some sort to the world, his reviews at home are far from impressive.

As of August 2, it was rated 2.6 on the Google Play Store, well below 3.8 for the Aarogya Setu app. The latest data from the Millennial YouGov-Mint-CPR survey suggests something similar: more than a third of respondents rated the experience of registering and getting a location on the CoWin app ” 1 “or” 2 “on a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 is extremely bad and 5 is extremely good. Respondents were more positive about other aspects of vaccination such as cost and access to centers. Those in the poorest and least educated households expressed the greatest dissatisfaction with the Cowin app and the slot reservation process.

The YouGov-Mint-CPR Millennial Survey covered 10,285 respondents in 203 cities during the period June-July. The survey was jointly conducted by the Indian arm of global market research firm YouGov, Mint, and the Delhi-based Center for Policy Research (CPR). The survey is the sixth in a series of biannual surveys aimed at examining the aspirations, anxieties and attitudes of India’s digital natives. About half of the sample is made up of millennials. The others are pre-millennials (40+) or post-millennials (18-24 years old).

Surprisingly, millennials and post-millennials reported more difficulty in registering and reserving a niche than pre-millennials. This may have as much to do with the limited availability of vaccines for younger age groups as with the application itself. Problems accessing OTPs for slot reservation can seem more frustrating when there are only limited slots.

Vaccine inequality

The limited availability of vaccines meant that obtaining a niche has become the fastest growing competition, in which luck and a fast internet connection play a big part. For five months after the start of the vaccination campaign, the app was only available in English. Therefore, the low experience rate of those lower on the income and education ladder should not be surprising. Due to barriers to access, immunization coverage also shows deep inequalities.

After the Supreme Court ruled that a vaccination policy relying exclusively on a digital portal would not be able to meet its goal of universal vaccination due to the digital divide, on-site visits and registrations were allowed by the government. But the number of vaccination sites fell 28% in July, limiting access to millions of people without digital access.

Confidence deficit

Data show a large gap in immunization coverage between religious groups. Of those surveyed, two-thirds of Hindus had received at least one dose. But among Muslims and Christians, only about half had received the jab. Religious minorities also said they were more concerned about the safety and side effects of vaccines.

Lack of confidence in the ruling regime may be one of the reasons for vaccine doubts, some field reports suggest. Other reports suggest that religious superstitions and beliefs (the vaccine being “haram” or “satanic”) could also be at play. State governments and religious institutions may both need to unite to reduce the vaccine hesitancy through targeted campaigns and address vaccine fears to close the confidence gap. Otherwise, even with an increase in vaccine supplies, large numbers of Indians could remain unvaccinated.

Influence on the party

While lack of confidence in the plan can reduce confidence in vaccines, trust in government can also increase confidence in vaccines. Supporters of the ruling party (BJP) are way ahead of vaccine coverage, more convinced of the safety of vaccines and less wary of its side effects and complications than other party supporters, according to survey data. This is consistent with surveys in other countries which find a strong correlation between trust in government and potential acceptance of vaccines.

Those who do not align themselves with any political party are the most skeptical of vaccines. While the gap between the BJP and other party supporters has widened over time, the attitudes of those who do not align with any party have remained similar .

Overall, 61% think covid vaccines are completely safe. Only 8% said they would not take vaccines, suggesting reluctance to vaccinate remains low in urban India. But the aggregate figures hide significant differences at the group level, which require urgent attention.

This is the first in a four-part data journalism series on the covid experiences of digital natives in India.

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