GUWAHATI: Nagaland’s Kiphire district has the lowest Covid-19 vaccination coverage for first dose in the country at 21%, even as the first-dose coverage is inching towards 100% in many districts across India. Thanks to hesitancy among Chirtstian followers in this Nagaland district with low literacy rate, being driven by a belief that inoculation is being done with a microchip engraved with the number 666, which is the ‘number of the beast’.
Villagers also fear people will become sterile and die after two to three years of taking the vaccine.
The second dose coverage on Saturday was 16% in Kiphire as little progress could be made in the first dose of vaccination.
“In our religion, 666 or the sign of the beast is anti-Christ. People are spreading the rumour that this is not a vaccine but microchips of 666 are being injected,” said Dr K Pewezo Khalo, district immunisation officer, Kiphire.
He added that the lower literacy rate in the district complicated the hesitancy factor further. “Not only unlettered people, even some educated people have developed vaccine hesitancy,” he said.
Khalo further said that the misbelief has been spreading since January. “Except for doctors and nurses, even a section of health auxiliary staff stayed away from the vaccine. More hesitancy is being reported from the rural hospitals. We have confronted the issue in the district headquarters as well,” said Khalo.
“We are translating the facts about Covid vaccine in local dialects and circulating the messages of public leaders and noted citizens through social media,” he added.
Akheto Sema, general secretary of the Council of Baptist Churches in North East India, who is from Nagaland, said 666 has nothing to do with the Covid-19.
Ex-pastor of Guwahati Baptist Church, Azizul Haque, too said 666 is a prophecy in the Holy Bible but it cannot be related to the Covid-vaccine. “Covid is a pandemic and we have to fight it out scientifically. The extremist groups are speculating such things especially,” said Haque, founder of Life Word Ministries, an online ministry for teaching biblical truth.
The Nagaland health department has roped in NGOs, religious leaders and noted citizens to eradicate the misbelief, which is haunting not only unlettered people but also the literate in several villages in the underdeveloped district.
Kiphire featured among the top five aspirational districts named by the NITI Ayog earlier this year, which means it deserves special credit for improving livelihoods.
Kiphire, despite having a total population of less than 1 lakh, has been the most difficult district in convincing the beneficiaries to take vaccine. State immunisation officer, Nagaland, Dr Ritu Thurr, told TOI that refusal of the citizens is the biggest problem as they cannot compel people to take the vaccine unless they agree. Even as social media rumours of death and sterility haunted Muslim inhabited in lower Assam districts, Thurr said the ‘microchip’ theory in Kiphire is unique. “Misinformation with unauthenticated facts has badly affected vaccination drives in Kiphire,” he added.
During monsoon as well, many villagers in the difficult hilly terrain could not be approached.
Inhabitants of Sangtam, Sumi and Yimkhiung tribes are in majority in Kiphire. Present day Kiphire was part of the ‘North Eastern Frontier Agency’ as part of the Tuensang area and its areas remained untouched even by the British colonial administration though the neighbouring areas were subjugated during the 1920s.

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