While the world battles COVID-19, vaccination looks like the primary solution to overcome this fight against the virus. India has vaccinated over 38 crores of its citizens with the first dose. But there are many who are left behind trying to figure out how they would get the vaccines. People with disabilities are one such vulnerable group.
Sightsavers, an organisation that works for people with disabilities, has decided to take up the cause of ensuring vaccine equity. The organisation has urged the government to take a disabled-friendly approach for vaccination to reach each and every person in the country. Internationally acclaimed Actor Kabir Bedi, who is also Sightsavers Honorary Brand Ambassador said, “In this COVID pandemic, when we all are getting vaccinated, please remember to help those with disabilities to get vaccinated. Especially those who are visually challenged or blind or suffering from any other disability and have problems getting to the vaccination center. We can only beat this virus if we are all in it together. Support Sightsavers India’s initiative of Vaccine Equity and leave no one behind. Help the disabled get vaccinated for yourself, for your families, and for India.”
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The 2020 World Health Organization disability considerations report states that governments should: ensure public health information and communication is accessible; undertake targeted measures for persons with disabilities and their support networks, as well as disability service providers in the community; address the higher risks of persons in institutional settings and correctional facilities; and, crucially, ensure that emergency measures include the needs of persons with disabilities.
Mr RN Mohanty, CEO Sightsavers India said, “The pandemic has already shown its impact especially on those with disabilities. Any policy formed to tackle the ongoing pandemic ideally should have policies catering to the needs of people with disabilities. Sightsavers’ Equal World Vaccine Equity campaign seeks to raise awareness on the issue by supporting local governments in creating enabling environments for COVID-19 vaccination. We also aim at making people with disabilities aware of the benefits of COVID-19 vaccination so that there is no hesitancy on its uptake.”
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There are about 2.68 crore people with disabilities in India who constitute 2.21 percent of the total population. Sightsavers in its Equal World Vaccine Equity manifesto, requested the Government of India and all state governments to ensure equity in the vaccination of persons with disabilities for COVID-19 and, to that end, urge them to take the following urgent actions:
- All persons with disabilities be vaccinated in areas nearest their residence. Persons with disabilities who cannot move and are bedridden should be vaccinated at their residence.
- Caregivers should be given the opportunity to get vaccinated along with the person with disability.
- Centres, where vaccinations are delivered, should be physically accessible & assistance should be provided to all people with disability.
- In case of difficulties in locating vaccination centres in close vicinity of persons with disabilities’ residence, transport facilities should be made available to the concerned person and his/her caregiver.
- Information on enrolment and benefits to COVID-19 vaccinations in accessible formats and through dedicated hotlines should timely reach people with disabilities to fight COVID-19. Make vaccination a simple task for people with disabilities and their caregivers.
- All communication campaigns are to be inclusive & accessible to persons with disability, including gender. Electronic media, especially radio and television, should be utilized extensively to alleviate vaccine hesitancy. Special drives and campaigns should be run specifically for women with disabilities to get vaccinated.
- Vaccine Ambassadors including celebrities, sportspersons, Paralympians, religious leaders, community leaders, PRI leaders, and women with disabilities, should be recruited to reassure and encourage people with disabilities to take the vaccine.
- People with disabilities (already vaccinated) in collaboration with district administration should be supported as role models to promote vaccination and to remove fears & misconceptions.
- All states should be asked to maintain disability-wise disaggregated data on vaccination alongside gender & age.
- Organisations of Persons with Disabilities (OPDs) in the state & districts must be included in the planning, implementation and monitoring of the state and district level vaccination campaigns & mobilisation as well as represented on district level COVID task forces.
We’ll be safe when we all are safe. To that end, it is imperative to have vaccine equity for people with disabilities and ensure all mechanisms for ease of access for the same.