IN THE ONGOING PANDEMIC, healthcare workers are accomplishing a remarkable feat in containing, dealing with, diagnosing, and treating COVID-19 cases — often against daunting odds. While those in the healthcare sector put their own lives and wellbeing at risk to treat individuals with COVID-19, now they are going the extra mile to ensure vaccines reach all segments of the population.

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As India recovers from its devastating second COVID-19 wave, healthcare workers are pushing for mass vaccinations before a predicted third wave hits later this year. In Kashmir valley, medical teams are going the extra mile to vaccinate people door-to-door in urban and rural areas as well as in remote, mountainous regions.

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Healthcare workers in Kashmir valley achieved 100 percent vaccinations in four districts for the 45-plus age group.

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The challenge for these healthcare workers is not only reaching a far-flung populace, but also to motivate, encourage and educate people to get vaccinated. In many instances, health workers have faced threats and even beatings during door-to-door vaccination drives.

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I accompanied a group of healthcare workers on one of their vaccination drives to the remote areas of Lidderwat, about 20 km from Pahalgam. Carrying the vaccine doses and medical equipment including oxygen cylinders, health workers trekked through the mountains on foot or with the help of horses or porters for six hours to reach their destination.

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The path took them through valleys, mountains, and across rivers — all to vaccinate the shepherd population who migrate to the far mountains during the summers to graze their livestock.

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The vaccination drive in these mountains is considered the farthest in this isolated area of Pahalgam. “This is one of the farthest places where we have managed to reach and vaccinate people,” says Dr Mohammad Hussain, tehsildar — Pahalgam. “At first it was very difficult because people had little to no trust in vaccines and the vaccination process. We educated and convinced the people to get vaccinated, and thank god, we have been able to vaccinate the population in this remote area.”

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The shepherd population is always on the move to graze their cattle, which made them difficult to locate for this vaccination drive.

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With no connectivity to the outside world, the population in these areas is not aware of recent developments, and the places they live in are tough to reach even with the help of ponies and porters.

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“We had to plan for this vaccination drive over a long period of time because there is no connectivity in these areas. We also had to plan the logistics as it is far more difficult to reach these areas… So far, this is the longest distance we have covered to vaccinate the shepherd population,” says Dr Nasir Khan, block medical officer, Suller.

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With surprise and gratitude, the shepherd population in this area welcomed the medical teams and thanked them for scaling these heights to vaccinate them.

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“We have never seen a doctor or anyone from the medical department reach here for anything, this is the first time we have witnessed such a thing,” says a local, Abdul Hameed, as he received his dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. We wanted to get vaccinated but we couldn’t leave our flock up here and go for vaccinations, so we are really thankful for the team’s visit.”

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Muzamil Mattoo is a research scholar at the Islamic University of Science and Technology, a freelance journalist and photographer currently based in Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir.