Nalzaro: Vaccine hesitancy is still high

·4 min read

DESPITE the massive vaccination rollout in different parts of the country, people are still hesitant to submit themselves for vaccination for various reasons. The latest survey by the Social Weather Stations (SWS) conducted from April 28 to May 2,2021 and released last May 20 found that only 32 percent of adult Filipinos are willing to get vaccinated if they had a “chance to be given a free vaccine,” which has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

This means that only three out of 10 Filipinos are willing to be vaccinated. Almost as many adult Filipinos (33 percent) said they were unwilling to get vaccinated while 35 percent were uncertain. The survey was done using face-face-interviews with 1,200 respondents all over the country.

Fears over possible side effects, safety and distrust of the vaccines were the main reasons the respondents are unwilling to be vaccinated: a) 21 percent said “It’s not safe and effective;” b) 11 percent said “I might die/I heard reports of fatality;” c) 11 percent said “I am afraid, I don’t trust the vaccine;” d) 11 percent said “I have comorbidity/I am too old;” e) six percent said “I have negative feedback about the vaccines;” f) three percent said “I might get sick/I might get Covid-19;” g) two percent said “I am healthy/I am not sick;” h) one percent said “I just don’t like/need it;” i) one percent (no reasons cited); and j) one percent (no answer).

The percentage of those willing to get the vaccine was highest at 41 pecent in Metro Manila, 32 percent in the Visayas, 34 percent in Mindanao and 28 percent in Luzon. Those willing to get the vaccine are high in those who obtained college education with the average rate of 50 percent, 34 percent for high school graduates and 25 percent for elementary and non-elementary graduates, respectively.

Vaccine distrust is the main stumbling block why people are hesitant to get the vaccine despite encouragement by government and private sectors. The media is supporting this government’s undertaking through information dissemination and educational campaign. Even I have been encouraging the public through my radio program and in this column to avail themselves of the government’s free vaccination program as my little contribution to the government’s efforts to eliminate the Covid-19 pandemic.

But it is just unfortunate that there are people who refuse to understand the benefits we can get once fully vaccinated. And we cannot force them even if the government will entice them to get a shot by giving them freebies and incentives or even coercing them. As the proverbial saying goes, “You can lead a horse to the river, but you cannot make it drink.” This means you can provide someone with a nice opportunity, but you can’t make them take it if they don’t want to.

There are three types of vaccine hesitancy that government and health authorities need to be aware of: 1) The first reluctant group are those with concerns about safety testing. Many people will hesitate to have a newly developed vaccine even after it has passed the safety and efficacy tests of the main regulatory agency. This is because it will be too soon to know what long-term effects it may have; 2) The second set of sceptics are notoriously unmoved by science. These are the anti-vaxxer groups. These people don’t believe that these vaccines can protect them from Covid-19, maybe because of their faith, belief and religion; 3) The third reluctant group has received little attention so far. It comprises people motivated by animal welfare and environmental concerns. These number of vegans and vegetarians is increasing rapidly with many in recent years.

How to respond to or convince these vaccine skeptics is the problem of the government. These three different kinds of concerns need to be taken seriously. Rather than a blanket response to vaccine resistors, politicians and public health leaders need to acknowledge the different concerns, values and beliefs people have.

The proposed combination of President Rodrigo Duterte and Vice President Leni Robredo in a TV “infomercial” and other “influencers” will help a lot in convincing those skeptics to avail themselves of the vaccination. Experts say what you do is more powerful than what you say. Telling people you plan to get the vaccine and posting a photo on social media when you do is far more potent than anything else you share.

For those in government health agencies, when communicating with someone who is hesitant about the vaccine, experts say you should tell them the real score about the vaccine clearly, transparently and honestly. Don’t just ignore their concerns and downplay the side effects.

Oh, let’s go na. Pabakuna na ta.