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Hesitancy

As our nation continues to wait for the bulk of the Covid-19 vaccines that up to now have no final delivery dates because the officials responsible who had one job dropped that potentially game changing ball multiple times, one of the related issues that has not been addressed in this country is the problem of high rates of vaccine hesitancy among Filipinos.

A Pulse Asia survey conducted from February 22 to March 3 showed that 61 percent of its respondents would say “no” to getting inoculated with a Covid-19 vaccine if a shot was available during the time they were polled. This statistic is a worrying increase from a previous survey released January 2021 when 47 percent of Filipinos said they were unwilling to be vaccinated against Covid.

The survey also found that only 16 percent of respondents would have themselves vaccinated, while 23 percent said they “cannot say” if they would have themselves vaccinated.

The Pulse Asia survey was conducted through face to face interviews of 2,400 Filipinos aged 18 and above. It has a 95 percent confidence level with a +/- 2 percent margin of error.

The worrying rates of vaccine hesitancy among Filipinos may be a blessing in disguise for an administration that utterly failed to procure vaccines because if by some miracle a surprisingly proactive and competent government official was hypothetically able to have millions of vaccine doses delivered early this year, it might have gone to waste on a population that it turns out is unwilling to be vaccinated.

Given this untenable statistic that would make our quest for herd immunity via vaccination doubly difficult, one would expect the government to be embarking on a major information campaign to counter vaccine hesitancy among Filipinos so that when the shots do arrive, more will have themselves inoculated.

But if you come to think of it, government, as usual, seems to be doing nothing once again. We are wasting the opportunity to fight vaccine hesitancy while waiting months for the delayed doses to arrive. There are no information drives on the benefits of vaccination and why it is the key to any return to normalcy in this lockdown happy country. Based on the trend of the Pulse Asia surveys, vaccine hesitancy is even worsening and if nothing is done as per usual, this country will be in more trouble when the vaccines we belatedly ordered finally arrive turn out to be useless because not enough Filipinos are not buying in.

There is no vaccine that is 100 percent effective and 100 percent safe. But because of the politically-motivated hatchet job against the Dengvaxia, vaccine hesitancy among Filipinos has become a serious problem. Even before Covid, nationwide vaccination rates have already been dropping, allowing the improbable return of polio, a disease that had been eradicated by vaccination. Aside from that, the country was hit with measles outbreaks after more mothers had their babies missed shots. Our nation of easily fooled people is now paying the price of the Dengvaxia circus that this government willingly turned a blind eye to. Vaccine hesitancy is a real stumbling block in any massive nationwide vaccination program against Covid-19 and it is something any competent government should have been working to reverse many months ago.

Aside from an incompetent government, sensationalist media plays a big role in countering vaccine hesitancy. Irresponsible news reports of people getting infected with Covid even after being vaccinated do not help. First of all, nobody said vaccines are 100 percent effective so what’s the fuss? Secondly, those people who got infected after their shot may have already been infected before inoculation so, in that case, the vaccine was too late. Thirdly, vaccines take time to work so anyone who got their shot can still be vulnerable while the protection inside the body is still ramping up. Such news reports are not helping and it is disappointing to see journalists falling into these traps.

If I were a marketing guy, I’d market the vaccine not as better protection from severe Covid. Even the poorly rated vaccines from China have been found to be extremely effective in preventing serious cases of Covid where ICUs are required. That is the most important thing for all of us right now. Mild and manageable cases of Covid (which can still happen to a small percentage of vaccinated persons) won’t overwhelm our health care system like it is doing now with our largely unvaccinated population.

Vaccine hesitancy is a major issue that should’ve been addressed last year but our government, as usual, has done next to nothing while we wait in lockdown or whatever quarantine state for the bulk of the vaccines to arrive.

At this point, it is once again up to us private citizens and the private sector to do what we can to prepare our country for its vaccination program. Let us not just conduct surveys among our circles of influence, but also try to change the mind of those who are still vaccine hesitant among us because we will need to vaccinate as many Filipinos as we can if and when those damned and highly perishable vaccines finally arrive.*

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