Countering vaccine hesitancy

BAR NONE - Atty. Ian Vincent Manticajon - The Freeman

Vaccine hesitancy in the Philippines is real. A Social Weather Station (SWS) survey found that only 32% of adult Filipinos are willing to get vaccinated against COVID-19, while 33% are unwilling and 35% are uncertain.

However, the extent of the problem could not be accurately gauged by looking at the survey numbers alone. A quantitative study, such as a survey, has a major drawback. While it can establish a general view about a problem, it could not provide the researcher in-depth insights on a problem that is not yet well understood.

In my master’s studies in design a few years ago, our class was encouraged to do mixed methods research. The goal of knowing a person’s preference of a particular product or service, for example, could not be met by merely asking a series of close-ended questions. One has to dig deeper through qualitative study methods which can uncover a research subject’s subconscious thoughts based on the premise that consumers “don’t really know what they think.”

In other words, people decide and behave at a subconscious level most of the time. They say one thing, yet do another. People likewise easily change their direction when presented with a stimulus. Vaccine hesitancy, I believe, is a problem that fits this situation.

For instance, majority of those unwilling to get vaccinated are afraid of the vaccine’s possible side effects or the possibility that they might get sick or die. More or less the same reasons were given by those who are uncertain about vaccination.

I say the survey numbers do not present the full picture because it may give us a wrong general impression about those people who are unwilling to get a vaccine or are uncertain about getting one. Vaccine hesitancy is influenced by context-specific factors. Therefore, there is a need to dig deeper beyond the survey numbers about what’s causing the hesitancy.

Previous studies about vaccine hesitancy have identified three major factors that are associated with vaccine hesitancy: confidence, convenience, and complacency. When you ask people why they are not willing to get vaccinated, they would tell you that they are afraid of the vaccine’s possible side effects (lack of confidence). That would be their most logical and plausible explanation. No one will tell you that they are waiting for their friend or next-door neighbor to get a vaccine (a combination of complacency and lack of confidence) or that they have no idea where and how to access one (convenience).

The challenge, therefore, to authorities is to dig deeper as regards the cause of vaccine hesitancy among many Filipinos. That way, they would be able to come up with more effective way to address the problem. The numbers may be discouraging but I tell you the problem may not be as big as we think it is.

In Cebu, it’s too early to tell if vaccine hesitancy is indeed a major hurdle in our goal of achieving herd immunity. So far, I see our LGUs doing a good job in raising people’s confidence about the vaccination program. Cebu City, in particular, through its online registration system and multiple vaccination venues, is making it convenient for people to access the vaccines.

As regards the problem of complacency, that’s one thing not so difficult to hurdle. I can tell you about this vaccine-hesitant neighborhood whose senior residents and individuals with comorbidities suddenly scrambled for vaccination slots after one chatty neighbor showed them that she already got the jab. Talk about the “sunod-sunod” or “gaya gaya” Filipino attitude.

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