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Terrain, distance, vaccine hesitancy among tribals were some challenges the doctors faced.Gudalur, Nilgiris: She walks for an hour inside a forest, on a slippery road, to arrive at a tribal settlement. She finds an eighty-year-old tribal woman waiting to get her second dose of the Covid vaccine.Dr R Sandhya was part of the team that achieved the feat of administering the COVID-19 vaccine to 100% of the tribal population in Tamil Nadu’s Nilgiri district.The Tamil Nadu government announced that double vaccination had been completed for all those eligible in the community of over 21,000. Many of them live in difficult terrain in remote forest areas.NDTV accompanied two health teams on their vaccination drives and observed the challenges they faced.Dr Sandhya’s team had to walk for nearly two hours to just inoculate four tribals. “Even if one person is left out, there is a risk of around 500 people here contracting the virus,” says Dr Sandhya.”Many from these communities don’t come to our vaccination centres. So it’s important we reach out,” she adds.The Nilgiris district has a population of 7.2 lakh, of which 21,000 are tribals from six tribes that are listed in India’s particularly vulnerable tribal groups (PVTG). Over the last few months, doctors and health workers have visited nearly 1,300 tribal settlements to achieve the 100% vaccination target.Terrain and distance weren’t the only odds that the health teams battled. While passing through wetlands, the village’s head nurse, R Malarkodi, was sucked on by a leech. Brushing off the pain, she says, “As a health worker I am proud of this mission to keep people safe amid the pandemic.”Another major challenge was vaccine hesitancy among the tribals. The district administration managed to persuade a few tribals to get the shot, who then went on to become ambassadors and convinced everybody in their communities to get inoculated.Nilgiris collector, J Innocent Divya, says that they had to make several visits to the same set of villages to convince locals to get the vaccine. “The NGOs helped us very much. We even made a vaccine jingle in tribal languages,” Divya told NDTV.The district, which is known for its tea plantation, was badly hit during the second wave of the pandemic. This forced the administration to ramp up vaccinations ahead of a possible third wave of Covid.

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