Written by Ramsha
Edited by Felicia Baxter MD MBA
Introducing my guest blogger for this week Ramsha hailing from Pakistan!
Vaccine rollout across Asia has started to pick up the pace after a slow start due to shortages and political hurdles, however, this success can prove to be short-lived owing to the vast amount of misinformation campaigns and hoaxes that are appearing on social media platforms.
Spreading awareness about vaccination to counter misinformation is hard as it involves technical knowledge, the lack thereof makes people anxious and scared of the unknown which is capitalized upon by those who are against vaccinations. This fear, anxiety, and often at times, anger against the government makes it difficult to curb vaccine hesitancy. Such is the case in most of Asia as millions are underprivileged people who don’t have access to quality education and are therefore more susceptible to be influenced by Covid misinformation.
The root causes of public hesitancy in Asia against getting vaccinated can be traced back to the very beginning of the pandemic when there was initial success in curbing the spread of the virus by social distancing and lockdowns. People gradually overcame their sense of urgency as false comparisons of Covid with mere common-cold became mainstream which led to many denying the seriousness of the pandemic. Furthermore, the lockdowns and curbs to movement meant to control the spread of covid left many without a source of income and becoming disenchanted with their governments, blaming them for failing to balance between protecting lives and livelihoods.
Disenchantment with public officials and politicians went hand in hand with vaccine hesitancy as vaccine rollouts began and governments tried to coerce people into getting vaccinated. As a result, misinformation related to the side effects of getting vaccinated outpaced the rate of vaccinations. Furthermore, developed countries like Japan and the Philippines already had a history of vaccine safety-related incidents and all the hoaxes about Covid vaccines further decreased public trust in the vaccines.
Questions about the safety of vaccines were indeed paramount, mainly because China was the region’s main supplier of vaccines, and the lack of data backing up their efficacy, combined with anti-China sentiment in Southeast Asia, made people skeptical over getting vaccines supplied by China.
Vaccine diplomacy played a role in this regard as well, hundreds of thousands of people from South Asia work abroad in the Middle East and many more in Europe as well. Almost all of them had received Sinopharm or Sinovac jabs but they weren’t allowed to travel internationally unless they got a booster dose of non-Chinese produced vaccines such as Pfizer or Moderna. The legacy of the region’s colonial past also persuaded the masses to opt for vaccines supplied by America or the United Kingdom over the ones from China as like with any other commodity, the label of being produced in America was more publicly acceptable.
To conclude, misinformation campaigns against the side effects of vaccinations, skepticism over the efficacy of vaccines, discontent against forced vaccinations, and preference of one vaccine over the other; are the major contributing factors to growing vaccination hesitancy in Asia.
In summary, the after-effects of colonialism and misinformation are fueling the COVID vaccine hesitancy in Asia. What are your thoughts on vaccine hesitancy in your location? I will read and discuss this article in an upcoming podcast episode of @tnfroisreading