Nalzaro: Convincing vaccine skeptics

Bobby Nalzaro
·4 min read

My main employer, GMA 7 Network Inc., has conducted a survey among employees who want to be vaccinated against coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19). Maybe the company is planning to purchase its own vaccines for its employees and will not wait for the government‘s free vaccination program. Media people are not on the priority list of those to be inoculated.

Admittedly, I am still undecided whether to avail myself or not if there is any vaccine to be given for free from the management. If I will submit myself, maybe I will choose the brand of vaccine. Not because I am against vaccination but I have just a little reservation like so many others. This is maybe because I give more weight to the negative results of the vaccine based on the articles I have read. I have some friends even from the medical profession who, like me, are skeptical about the vaccine. But if the company’s vaccination is a must among GMA 7 employees, then who am I to refuse?

A coronavirus vaccine has been heralded as the key to returning to some semblance of normal life but public health experts will first need to convince people to take it for it to be effective.

Even though vaccines have virtually eliminated the risk of many preventable diseases, there have been an increase in refusal and hesitancy over the past decades. In the United States, vaccine refusal is most prevalent in wealthy, white areas and marginalized communities. Here in the country, it is a cross section in the community who are hesitant specially the parents because they still have a phobia of Dengvaxia, the anti-dengue vaccine, where many children died. Even professionals and those in the higher strata of society are hesitant because of what happened in Norway where several people aged 80 above died after being vaccinated.

In January, a survey conducted by Octa Research, an independent survey group updating Covid-19 cases, showed that only 25 percent of respondents in Metro Manila are willing to get an anti-coronavirus vaccine shot when it is available. Of the 600 respondents aged 18 and up, only 25 percent are willing to be vaccinated. Most of the 29 percent of those inclined to get a vaccine were from the upper income class and middle class. Only one out of four people wants to be vaccinated, the survey showed.

You see the percentage of those skeptical? The number one reason these people are hesitant is because they fear for their safety. It is now the problem of the government to convince them otherwise. It is tempting for public health communicators to dismiss those who are refusers or hesitant by broadly labelling them as conspiracy theorists or misinformed skeptics who would come around if given the facts. But mistrusting the coronavirus vaccine process — from development to trials to distribution — cannot merely be dismissed as “anti-science” thinking. It is not just an outcome of this moment’s political polarization and dangerous misinformation coming from the highest level of leadership.

There are so many black propaganda and fake news about the vaccine which is one of the reasons some people are skeptical. One is because of religion or faith. In Iran, a religious leader told his supporters, especially males, not to submit themselves for vaccination because it will turn them gay.

Pagkatoytoy!

Ayatollah Abbas Tabrizian made these claims on messaging platform Telegram, where he has almost 210,000 followers, The Jerusalem Post reported. According to the publication, Tabrizian wrote on the platform, “Don’t go near those who have had the Covid vaccine. They have become homosexuals.” But the Iranian cleric was criticized by the LGBT community for “demonizing both the vaccine and gay community.” The claim of Tabrizian combines scientific ignorance with a crude appeal to homophobia. Homosexuality is prohibited in Iran, an Islam dominated country.

Some misleading information against the vaccine is nearly identical to claims made about smallpox immunization 120 years ago. The ingredients are toxic and unnatural; the vaccine is insufficiently tested; the scientists who produce them are quack and profiteers; the cell cultures involved in some shots are an affront to the religious; the authorities work to protect public health are guilty of tyrannical overreach; and many others.

How to counter these black propaganda is the problem of our government. In fact, only very few parents have allowed their children to be vaccinated in the ongoing immunization program for measles, rubella and polio because of fear.

Maybe I want to see President Duterte get vaccinated in public before I submit myself to one. He is the number one endorser for the vaccination program. In the meantime, just give me enough time to think.