Even as India inches closer to 100 crore COVID-19 vaccination doses, several social media users expressed their anger on Twitter against mandatory vaccination. The hashtag #VaccinationIsNotCompulsory is viral on Twitter since October 16.
Currently, vaccination is voluntary but people are required to provide their vaccination certificates if they want to travel via flights or even in the Mumbai local train. Several anti-vaccination groups first got active in the country when there were reports of vaccine induced deaths in the country. The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare's committee that was formed to monitor adverse events following immunisation has only confirmed one Covid-19 vaccine induced death in the country while the other 400 and more deaths were not found to be linked to the vaccine.
Another hashtag #SayNoTo Vaccination has also been in circulation since June 2020. Anti-vaccination groups have even shared templates of letters that people can write to their employers or government authorities to justify their refusal to get vaccinated. These templates were shared after the Meghalaya High Court announced that forced vaccination violates fundamental rights of citizens.
These groups which are more active on Telegram than on any other platforms are now moving to Twitter to share their hashtags. Awaken India Movement is one such anti- vaccination group that has organised people on social media.
Incorrect Context Given To Share Hashtag
#VaccinationIsNotCompulsory first went viral after it was alleged that Avi Barot, a cricketer from Saurashtra suffered a cardiac arrest and died after getting vaccinated. While there is no evidence supporting these claims, the hashtag has been picked up and has been tweeted over 150 times.
BOOM found that Awaken India Movement also tweeted the same hashtag which was then picked up by many others who have been tweeting against vaccination. Awaken India Movement shared a video requesting people to appeal to the Chief Justices of Mumbai High Court and Supreme Court of India to hear the pending PILs filed against vaccine mandates.
It also emerged that using this hashtag, a students' union called the Bharatiya Vidyarthi Morcha decided to stage protests in 550 districts of India on October 18. They decided to walk to the district head offices and raise their voices against mandatory vaccination.
Other Similar Hashtags Also Viral
After #VaccinationIsNotCompulsory went viral, these groups tweaked the spelling of compulsory and trended #VaccinationIsNotCompulsary. While the former had over 180 tweets, the latter had another 150.
On analysing the hashtags, BOOM found that several users were now deleting their tweets after it picked pace among users. The earliest tweets that have still not been deleted are by a Twitter user Kiran Martis and Awaken India Movement.
Two other hashtags that were trending at the same time were #DoNotForceForVaccine and #SayNoToVaccination.
Most of the tweets for #DoNotForceForVaccine are in Hindi which say that the people will not tolerate the government's dictatorship in the administration of the COVID-19 vaccines. Mayur Patil, a social activist with close to 4100 followers started the trend.
Rise of Anti-Vaccination Sentiment
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, there were very few anti-vaccination voices in India. Anti-vaccination was considered to be a Western sentiment and movement. However, once the vaccines were approved within a year of the pandemic and were required to continue availing many public services, India witnessed many people raising their voices on social media.
The voices are not only limited to online endeavours. Awaken India Movement along with many other anti-COVID voices like Dr. Tarun Kothari, Dr. Biswaroop Chaudhary, India Against Slavery, India Against Rumors have amassed many followers who believe that the COVID-19 vaccine is unnecessary and could actually be harmful. They have staged offline protests in many countries.
Some of these groups are also against masking and have shared that COVID-19 is just a hoax and a propaganda mechanism to regulate and control people.
Additional reporting by Sujith A