Who are the anti-vaxxers?

FROM FAR AND NEAR - Ruben Almendras - The Freeman

Since the start of the COVID vaccinations in November last year, the pace and coverage of the worldwide vaccination have been uneven. As of end May 2021, the U.S., Singapore, Dubai and New Zealand have fully vaccinated over 52% of their population. Other developed countries in Europe, Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea still have less than 16% coverage and are ramping up, as their low infection rates had delayed their vaccination campaign. The Philippines together with many developing countries have vaccinated less than 2% at this time.

While, the availability of the vaccines were part of the low vaccination rates, now that more vaccines of multiple brands are available, the race is on to accelerate the injections to cover 70% of the target population, to achieve the herd immunity, taking into consideration that there will be people who cannot be or do not want to be vaccinated.

Many poll surveys show that worldwide, there are 40% to 50% of people who are averse to getting vaccinated, with 20% strongly against vaccination. In the Philippines, earlier surveys show the same 50% resistance but later polls have dropped this to 30%, with the coming of more acceptable vaccine brands like Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Moderna and Janssen, other than China made Sinovac.

Anti-vaxxers are the people who disagree or oppose the use of vaccines for perceived medical reasons, religious beliefs, and human rights violations. This was documented to have started in the U.S. in the 18th century but most of these reasons have been debunked and discredited. It still persists in some communities and sectors in many countries because of misinformation abetted by the social media. The World Health Organization (WHO) and medical journals like Lancet have long denied the link of vaccines to autism, encephalitis and other side effects of vaccines. And the side effects of the COVID vaccines have been declared as minimal and rare at .01%, or one in a million, and that the benefits greatly outweigh the potential side effects. Even the “breakthrough infections”, people who still get infected with the COVID virus after the vaccinations, are also at .01%.

The religious and cultural objectors to vaccinations are harder to overcome. Certain religions and sects are totally opposed to artificial medications or even blood transfusions, so there is no way they will accept vaccinations. There are also indigenous populations whose cultural beliefs prohibit all forms of injections. These people have to be considered as the 5% given anti-vaxxers. Add to these, the 10% misinformed and narrow-minded individuals who are resistant to change and reads only social media posts that reinforce their biases. Then, there is another 2.5% of individuals that are “off the grid” or totally isolated and another 2.5% in the lunatic fringe, so there is a total 20% of the world’s population that will never be vaccinated.

To reach the 70% vaccination objective as soon as possible is not just the task of governments but also all responsible members of society, because unvaccinated persons will lengthen or perpetuate the pandemic, its public health and economic effects. It is a violation of the human rights of the greater numbers of society as it affects their health and economic well-being.  While in the earlier stages of the pandemic, some autocratic national leaders have downplayed the pandemic which encouraged the anti-vaxxers, almost all are now on board for vaccination.

Educating the public with information campaign from the government and private sector have to be continuing. Dis-information in the social media have to curtailed/contained and the balanced view of the traditional/main media promoted. This is the only way to achieve the 70% vaccination target with or without the payments or prize incentives to those wavering to be vaccinated.

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