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The vaccination clinic in Jharkand’s Simdega district.

The vaccination clinic in Jharkand’s Simdega district.

Photographer: Arko Datto/Bloomberg

India’s Race to Vaccinate Its Villages Meets With Rural Resistance

In the country’s remote and desperately poor areas, suspicion of the government’s motives runs deep.

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Outside a three-room concrete building coated in faded red paint, Neeral Kullu was waiting anxiously. The 35-year-old farmer had spent the late August morning walking across miles of jungle, dirt tracks, and lush fields to reach this makeshift vaccination clinic in Simdega, a rural district in Jharkand, one of India’s poorest states. At the entrance he was greeted by two white-coated nurses stationed at a small table laid out with syringes, Covid-19 vaccination cards, and paracetamol tablets. Still, Kullu was unsure he’d actually get an injection. The first time he’d tried, a couple of weeks earlier, fewer than five people had turned up, and he was told to come back the next day, because opening a precious 10-dose vial for so few recipients would be a waste. When he returned, a nurse told him his blood pressure was too high and sent him home again.

On this visit, Kullu sheltered under a fig tree while he waited for his turn. His blood pressure was normal, but when a nurse tried to register him on the government’s vaccination-tracking app, a new obstacle popped up: She couldn’t get a phone signal. Clutching her handset, she took five steps away. Still nothing. Then another five steps. Suddenly, a couple of small bars popped up on the screen. She could record Kullu’s shot. A few minutes later another nurse injected him with his first dose of AstraZeneca Plc’s Covid vaccine. Kullu, who wore a sky-blue polo shirt with a prominent tear at the chest, blue shorts, and rubber sandals, was elated. “The gods are supporting me today,” said the father of two, beaming.