Afraid of Covid vaccine? Information is power

It is the best shield against pandemic and benefits outweigh safety concerns

In Summary

• Western-led clinical interventions have long suffered distrust of effects and intentions

• Kenyans should be sensitised against myths and conspiracy theories sowing doubts

Image: OZONE

Scientists say mass vaccination is the fastest way for humanity to emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic and return to normal activity, but a reluctance among some people to get vaccinated could complicate matters.

Conspiracy theories widely circulating on social media are blamed for vaccine hesitancy. Some health experts, however, feel not enough effort has gone into addressing genuine concerns over the vaccines. 

It now appears that the rush to develop a vaccine ignored the role of public communication in mobilising communities. Various polls have put the percentage of Kenyans willing to take the vaccine at a high of 83.1 per cent and as low as 51 per cent. Among health workers, vaccine acceptance is remarkably low.

A survey conducted by the Kenya Progressive Nurses Association showed 80 per cent of respondent nurses saying they would not get vaccinated. Fifty-nine per cent of the nurses cited safety concerns.

“The rollout was not done in consultation with the health care workers, so one of the major issues we are dealing with is vaccine hesitancy because of inadequate information about the vaccine,” said Chibanzi Mwachonda, acting secretary general, Kenya Medical Practitioners Pharmacists and Dentists Union, at a Senate hearing on March 17.

Speaking at the same hearing, Seth Panyako, secretary general of the Kenya National Union of Nurses, said nurses had not been sensitised on the vaccine. “We are the vaccinators. Patients will ask pertinent questions as we carry out the vaccination exercises. Questions such as: should I continue wearing a mask, what are the side-effects? These have not been answered,” Panyako told senators.

Social media is playing a huge role in vaccine hesitancy, with lots of conspiracy stories spreading wildly since the pandemic began a year ago. The common strand among the conspiracy theories is that Covid-19 is a plot by the so-called “Illuminati” to introduce a New World Order. The harsh enforcement of Covid-19 restrictions in many countries added fuel to the conspiracy stories.

Suggestions by some world leaders that everyone will have to show proof of Covid-19 vaccination before resuming a normal life feeds neatly into conspiracy theories. The proposed Covid Passport has been likened to the “Mark of the Beast” predicted in the Bible. The narrative in the Book of Revelation foretells a time when people will not be allowed to work without getting some sort of branding.

“Distrust of Western-led clinical interventions is not new,” wrote Dr Alex Awiti, Vice Provost of the Aga Khan University in an article for the Star. “Somehow, and wrongly so, the elite assumed that people would accept the vaccine simply because Covid-19 is such a deadly respiratory virus. Not so,” he said.

It is still too early to know how much of the world’s population should be vaccinated for Covid-19 to lose its potency. "Until we better understand Covid-19 immunity, it will not be possible to know how much of a population is immune and how long that immunity lasts," says the World Health Organisation on its website.

This story first appeared on Sasa Digital, accessible on Sundays by dialling *550*3#