Bihar vaccine senior citizens
Senior citizens stand in queue to get COVID-19 vaccines during the second phase of vaccination, in Patna on Friday, March 5, 2021. Image Credit: ANI

Patna: The Bihar government has made it mandatory for prospective candidates for village council elections to take COVID-19 vaccines. The government has said that only those who produce vaccination certificates at the time of filing nominations will be allowed to contest elections, while those who fail to comply with the order will have their nomination papers rejected.

Elections are held for a total of 258,758 posts of village councils every five years, which include council chiefs, councillors and Sarpanch who have limited judicial powers. More than one million candidates join the poll fray trying their luck for various posts which earn them social status.

“We have urged the State Election Commission to allow only those who have taken the vaccine to contest elections,” Bihar Panchayati Raj minister Samrat Chaudhary told the media on Sunday. Stating that vaccination was a must for preventing the third wave of COVID-19, the minister said such effort would push up the vaccination drive in the state.

The minister also advised the prospective candidates to get their family members vaccinated to set an example for the society.

According to the government, the state faces maximum threat of COVID-19 spread during door-to-door campaign by the prospective candidates. “Candidates could prove to be superspreaders if they go on door-to-door campaigns to seek votes. Hence we want them to first get vaccinated before launching the poll campaign,” an official said.

Bihar is one of the few states where the vaccination rate is very low as little over 10 per cent of people have taken vaccines in the state so far since the vaccination drive started in mid-January. According to a health department report, a total of 13.27 million people have taken vaccines out of state’s total population of 104 million. Of them, 11.10 million have taken the first shot whereas only 2.10 million have taken the second dose.

According to health officials, there is a lot of hesitancy among the people in the villages about taking the vaccine for various reasons. The general fear among villagers is that taking vaccines may leave them infertile and disabled, cause life-threatening reactions or even lead to death.

The result is that the angry villagers have been chasing away health teams, roughing up health workers and assaulting them. The government feels the villagers could be encouraged to take vaccines if the prospective candidates showed interest in the inoculation drive and take the vaccines to build confidence of the villagers.

Nearly half the total of over 250,000 elected representatives of village councils themselves have not taken the vaccines so far.