Editorial: Targeting vaccine hesitancy

·3 min read

“Don’t be choosy.”

The official line spouted by President Rodrigo Duterte and Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque to discourage Filipinos from discriminating against certain brands of the vaccine for the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) seems to have the opposite effect other than the one desired by the government.

Only 32 percent of Filipinos replied they were willing to be vaccinated when the Social Weather Stations (SWS) field interviewers asked in person 1,200 adults from April 28 to May 2 if they would avail themselves of a chance to get a free, Food and Drug Administration-approved vaccine to prevent Covid-19.

Thirty-three percent of the SWS respondents said they were not willing to be vaccinated while 35 percent were uncertain about vaccination, reported the news website Rappler on May 21.

Despite the flooding on social media of images and testimonials posted by Filipinos that had their first dose or full dose of Covid-19 immunization, a significant number of Filipinos is avoiding the vaccine centers or are still sitting on the fence about whether to register or not with their local government unit to avail themselves of the Covid-19 vaccine.

The authorities must hurdle major challenges in countering the perceptions and attitudes of Filipinos uncertain or anxious about the vaccine’s safety and effectiveness, cited in the same SWS survey as the top reasons why citizens are unwilling to be vaccinated or remaining undecided over getting the Covid-19 jabs.

Vaccine fear is embedded in many citizens who remember few facts but retain the general impression that the Dengvaxia vaccine administered by the government to schoolchildren in 2017 “caused” some deaths. This health claim has been countered by health specialists.

However, biases are highly resistant to facts. Vaccine fear still causes many families to keep their children away from government immunization drives.

Sanita, 82, and Luzviminda, 64, are diabetic and coping with heart and kidney diseases. Both have been encouraged by their doctors and some relatives to get the Covid-19 vaccine.

However, a fear of possible harmful side effects restrains them from being vaccinated against Covid-19. Informed that she was scheduled to be vaccinated but will only know the vaccine brand when she is at the vaccine center, Sanita backed out because she was uncertain about getting the same brand used to vaccinate her doctors.

Luzviminda doubts whether the government will indemnify her family should something happen to her after receiving the vaccine. She is also influenced by her family and friends’ unfavorable opinions about the Sinovac vaccine donated by China.

“If the government will not indemnify us, they should let us choose (the brand of) our vaccine. We should go for informed consent,” she said.

The government’s choice to pursue a “brand agnostic” policy is supposed to prevent people from overcrowding in vaccination centers dispensing the Pfizer vaccine.

The World Health Organization advises citizens to take any available vaccine that has passed government regulations.

Mariana, 89, who was visited in her home by health workers, refused to be vaccinated. She is not convinced that any brand of the vaccine will do her any good. She does not trust the government “pushing” the people to be vaccinated against Covid-19. She cited the administration’s involvement in many controversies, such as population control and the War on Drugs.

The complexities of reaching out to and educating Filipinos about the Covid-19 vaccination does not involve only the authorities or experts in public health or mass media. Citizens and communities sharing the stake in fighting vaccine fear.

While racing to vaccinate as many Filipinos to bring down the hospitalizations and deaths caused by Covid-19, all stakeholders must respect every person’s right to be informed and to decide for his or her welfare and that of the community.

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