While there are people like me who are trying everything and pestering everyone we can to get vaccinated from Covid-19 as soon as possible, it is surprising, frustrating, and disappointing to discover that many Filipinos are still in no hurry to be inoculated.
I don’t know what they are afraid of or where they got the information that keeps them from lining up for the vaccine at the first opportunity, but it seems that many people are more afraid of the relatively mild or statistically insignificant side effects of the vaccine shot than the potential impact of remaining unprotected and getting severe Covid-19.
Perhaps they were scarred by the government’s hack job against the dengue vaccine Dengvaxia, where government officials with political motivations were unleashed to peddle unverified stories that the vaccination program of the previous administration had killed children. But the bottom line is, whatever the cause of the vaccine hesitancy that now threatens to derail any attempt achieving herd immunity in this country, our government now has to work extra hard to convince millions of Filipinos that the Covid-19 is both safe and necessary for normalcy to return.
It is natural for people to be afraid of side effects, especially when it comes to an injection that was developed in record time. But after the rigorous trials, millions of people all over the world have already been inoculated safely and those who live in societies where government is working on overdrive and overtime to achieve herd immunity, life is starting to go back to normal.
Other media outlets and influencers are focusing too much on the cons instead of the pros. They talk about people who got the shot and were still infected by Covid. They scare the vulnerable ones by focusing on the issue of in a million blood clots. They raise the specter of rumors of Dengvaxia deaths. With all this focus on the negative effects of vaccination, it is no wonder people are still hesitant.
People are afraid of injecting an unproven drug into their bodies. They are afraid of the mild side effects and terrified of the severe ones. Maybe some of them are afraid to lose time at work because of the side effects. They see news of vaccinated people still getting infected but fail to read beyond the headlines and peruse the details which will reveal that majority of the vaccinated who did get infected only experienced mild symptoms at worst, because the vaccine did its primary job which is to prevent severe Covid that can lead to hospitalization or death.
I don’t know how the mathematical skills of those people who would rather play the odds and risk getting Covid work. Why would they play the odds when surviving and preventing financial ruin could be dramatically improved through inoculation? Would they rather face the very real possibility of a visit to the ICU, intubation, and maybe even death because they are afraid of a couple of days of feeling lethargic, maybe a mild fever, or some joint pains?
People hesitate because they are more afraid than informed. On top of that, aside from the obvious benefits that our government officials assume everybody knows because there doesn’t seem to be any massive information drive to encourage vaccination, they have no additional incentives for getting the jab. The system is a mess. The lines are long. We don’t know when the stocks are coming. We can’t trust our government to get the best vaccines available. If there is no support from employers and government for those who want to be vaccinated, why should those who already have doubts change their minds?
The first order of business has to be a massive information drive. All the myths and fears have to addressed and dispelled. The benefits of vaccination and herd immunity have to be spelled out. Everyone has to understand that mass vaccination is a generally all or nothing affair. Even if our government officials have no idea when the bulk of vaccines they failed to order will arrive, they should’ve started convincing Filipinos that vaccination is the only way out of this quagmire way back in 2020.
The next issue that has to be addressed to lower hesitancy is support. Employees could be given vaccine days off or a vaccination allowance/bonus. Signing up for shots should be easy peasy. Instead of being potential super spreader events, the system should be more organized so willing Filipinos shouldn’t have to wait for hours in dangerously crowded and poorly ventilated spaces to be vaccinated. In countries like the USA where they have hit a vaccination wall, some states have lotteries for vaccinated people just to encourage more to take the jab and make herd immunity a reality.
What we are doing in the Philippines right now is making it difficult for anyone to get vaccinated. Even the private sector and those willing to pay for their shots have to jump through so many unnecessary hoops. For a government that was supposed to know how to get things done, nothing is getting done as quickly as it should. It seems that there is no plan and everyone either lost or simply winging it. No wonder Filipinos are hesitant.
At this point, I don’t know when I’ll get vaccinated. I don’t know if the vaccines we ordered will be accepted by the people. I don’t know if we will ever achieve herd immunity and nobody knows when life starts turning back to normal. The problems of vaccine supply, hesitancy and bias have to be solved if we are going to get through this never ending crisis.*