Misinformation, particularly spread through WhatsApp groups, has led some to believe that the vaccines have side effects like sterility or magnetism. Opposition figures trying to score political points against the government have amplified the concerns.
In some corners, cow dung, lemon juice, oils and herbs have been promoted as remedies. Business-minded religious gurus have pushed their own products as Covid cures, once even with help from Mr. Modi’s health minister. In a video clip, Baba Ramdev, a religious entrepreneur, mocks modern science and falsely claims that 1,000 doctors have died after taking the vaccine.
The three villages in Uttar Pradesh reflect the problem. A health official said that teams had set up vaccination clinics across the villages with a daily capacity of 100 to 200 doses. But each day, the supplies are barely touched. The official read from the ledger for one of the villages: 10 doses one day, five the next, two the day after.
In one of the villages, Dautai, the doctor at the local clinic, Ahmad Arsalan, went door to door with local elders to answer questions. Ishrat Ali, the principal of the local school, said one of his friends had read that anyone who took the vaccine would die within two years.
“I told him, ‘OK, the doctors got the vaccine, the police got the vaccine, everyone got the vaccine. If they all die, what are you going to do living on your own here?’” Mr. Ali said, recalling his convincing argument with a chuckle.
Rajveer Singh Tyagi, a village leader in Khilwai who had helped rally testing resources to contain the spread, said that persuading people to respond similarly to the vaccination drive had been difficult.