Church in India Encourages Vaccinations, Bishop’s Health ‘Worrisome’

The health of the Syro-Malankar bishop in India who served the poor on the streets of his eparchy since the start of the coronavirus outbreak continues to be worrisome, four months on from his admission to the hospital.

Bishop Jacob Mar Barnabas, O.I.C, of the Eparchy of St. John Chrysostom of Gurgaon contracted COVID-19 earlier this year. He was admitted to Holy Family Hospital in New Delhi on 16 April and was put immediately on a ventilator. This month, he was transferred to Fortis Hospital in Delhi, where he has been receiving additional treatment.

The bishop “continues to have an unstable health situation and is very much worrying,” said M.L. Thomas, the director of CNEWA India, on 23 August.

Mr. Thomas said daily text message updates on the status of the bishop’s health indicate his “liver is weak” and he continues to require ventilator support and dialysis. However, his vitals “remain stable” when he is medicated.

Since the start of the pandemic, Mar Barnabas had led the distribution of food and hygiene kits among the poor affected by COVID-19 in his eparchy, said Mr. Thomas.

A woman in the Trilokpuri slum of New Delhi receives a food aid, funded by CNEWA, during India’s second wave of COVID-19 in spring 2021. (photo: CNEWA India)

Despite its minority status, the church in India has been playing a significant role in trying to treat and contain the virus in the country.  

“Since the church has a visible presence and services in the areas of health and education, it offered its facilities right from the start of the coronavirus,” said Mr. Thomas.

Clergy, religious men and women, and lay volunteers have been at the forefront of reaching out to people in need, providing food and hygiene kits to those who have become unemployed as a result of the pandemic, he added.  

Furthermore, church leaders have taken a lead in educating the public about vaccines — aimed at countering the misinformation on social media — and motivating people to get the vaccinated to reduce the possibility of infection and severe illness or death, Mr. Thomas said. In the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Imphal, the archbishop has set up a COVID-19 task force, consisting of 100 nurses and doctors, its 52 schools and all its parishes, to run a vaccination drive, he added.  

“Vaccinations are by and large controlled by the Indian government,” Mr. Thomas explained. 

The majority of vaccines — about 75 percent — are purchased and distributed to the various Indian states by the central government. The remainder is sold directly to hospitals by vaccine manufacturers at a fixed rate, set by the government. Vaccinations are voluntary and free in state-run hospitals. People can also pay for the vaccine in a private hospital.

A religious sister distributes CNEWA-funded food kits to a woman in Umblebylu 3, Karnataka, this past spring during the second wave of COVID-19 in India. (photo: CNEWA India)

The Indian government has set a goal of vaccinating all residents by the end of the year. However, as of mid-August, only 34 percent of the Indian population (582 million people) had received the first dose of the vaccine and 10 percent (131 million people) had received both doses. Currently, about 5 million people are being vaccinated in India daily, reported Mr. Thomas. 

With medical experts warning of a third wave in October, the government is seeking ways to increase the daily vaccination rate. However, “vaccine shortages and vaccine hesitancy” among the population are proving to be obstacles, said Mr. Thomas.

As of 23 August, the country’s daily infection rate dropped to about 40,000, though half were in the southwestern state of Kerala. The number of reported COVID-positive cases in India was 32.4 million nationwide, and the COVID-related death toll was 434,000, including more than 530 Catholic priests, religious sisters and brothers.

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