Religious and faith-based leaders across Meghalaya have agreed to play a key role in battling vaccine hesitancy and the spread of misinformation against the COVID-19 pandemic.
This has come in the aftermath of an online interactive session on Thursday convened by the Meghalaya Health & Family Welfare Department.
The session witnessed the participation of over 150 leaders of various religious organizations from across the State.
Religious leaders and faith-based communities have been playing an important role in sensitizing masses about the COVID-19 virus and the importance and rationale behind COVID-19 appropriate behavior, said a statement.
And now, as intensive vaccination drives continue, vaccine hesitancy and misinformation, among other factors, have emerged as huge deterrents to preventative care against COVID-19.
With an aim to tackle this, the State Administration organized a one-to-one online interactive session with the religious and faith-based leaders on Thursday, the statement added.
The session witnessed participation from more than 150 prominent religious & faith-based leaders including Bishop Jose from Tura, Pastor Ruddy Kharkongor, Fr. James Anderson Syiemlieh, Pastor Stephan Pradhan from Ri Bhoi, Rev.
70 per cent of faith-based leaders said that they were already taking actions while 30 per cent responded that they were willing to take actions but just did not know how to systematically go about doing the needful.
Majority of the religious leaders agreed that religion gives a sense of purpose and meaning during hard times.
They also agreed that religion helps to mobilise people and act collectively, and make right moral decisions.
“A harmony of faith, science and tradition is crucial to battle the pandemic situation,” said Naba Bhattacharjee.
“It is also crucial to counter false information that has been circulating on social media. People should realise that getting vaccinated is the only solution available as of now to prevent ourselves and our loved ones from getting infected with the COVID-19 virus,” he added.
In many hard-to-reach areas of Meghalaya, where people still do not use smartphones and internet, religious places and congregations can act as crucial platforms for information dissemination and addressing concern and queries related to vaccine as well as COVID-19.
“It is evident that the State administration is extensively working through online and offline communication channels to spread information, but many people in rural areas do not even use smartphones, hence, they are often left out of the purview. In such cases, religious organizations like Churches can help to take the right message to the last mile”, remarked Bishop Jose from Tura.
“In rural areas, people are often seen to be psychologically and emotionally affected due to closure of Church services, as these give solace and guidance to them, especially during hard times”, stated Rev. HCT Sumer from Jowai.
“The government could come up with guidelines to allow for conducting religious services based on vaccination status. Religious services can be used as platforms for sensitizing people about COVID-19 as well as addressing vaccine hesitancy”.
“Though it may not be wise to open up religious institutions now, given the current scenario, pocket meetings could be held in various religious places where health experts could come in and address a limited number of people and their queries, while following all protocols”, suggested Noor Nongrum from Shillong Muslim Union.