Fear of vaccine lurks

Many people are still hesitant to take the jab. Reasons range from inconclusive research, lack of safety at vaccine centres and doubts on the efficacy of vaccines

Amid fears of the pandemic’s third wave, administering vaccines, at least a single dose, to the maximum population remains the top priority of the government, besides improving the health infrastructure. Though a vast majority is willing to get vaccinated, a small section still remains unconvinced for a variety of reasons and are hesitant to get the jab. The scepticism is not confined to particular strata of society or faith, but spreads across the rich and the poor, the literate and the illiterate and people practising different religions.

Corporate lawyer Sonia Abrol, a Master of Corporate and Commercial Laws from the University of California, is not convinced to take a jab because of contradictory reports on the efficacy of the vaccines and “little clarity” on their processes.

“Sometimes there are reports that a vaccine is not approved by WHO or the other is not accepted by the European Union. So which vaccine should one get? There is little clarity on the process of these vaccines. How much are you protected? Or how many variants are you protected against? The research is not conclusive. So how does one take a call? How can you play with your body? It is a big risk. I feel I am so much safer not getting vaccinated than getting vaccinated,” said the 34-year-old, a resident of Sector 9A in Gurugram.

Ms. Abrol, founder of law firm Sarvaya Legal, also sounded sceptical about the health infrastructure saying she was not sure whether the vaccination centres were properly sanitised or those administering vaccines were themselves not infected. “In a nutshell, I am being extra careful and I feel there is no better vaccine than staying home and staying unexposed,” summed up Ms. Abrol.

Implausible explanation

Panipat-based RTI activist P.P. Kapoor said that COVID-19 was a “big mystery” for him and seemed to be a weapon to trample the rights of the workers and distract people’s attention from the real issues and government’s failures. Not willing to take the jab, Mr. Kapoor argued that the number of COVID-19 cases rose and then went down without any plausible explanation. He added that even taking a vaccine does not guarantee full protection.

Maths post-graduate Rekha, a resident of Rohtak, said her husband, a civic body employee, and in-laws took the vaccine, but she was reluctant to take it.

“I know people who got infected after taking the jab. Also, even a little overdose of vaccine can be harmful and so I am scared to take it. It also causes fever for a few days,” said Ms. Rekha.

The 32-year-old said she had already got infected and recovered and was now confident that there was no need for vaccine.

Lack of faith

All India Mewati Samaj president Ramzan Chaudhary, a resident of Nuh, said that none in his village sewaka had got the jab except his family.

“We are soon going to hold a special camp in our village to get people vaccinated. When I spoke to the fellow villagers to find out the reasons for not getting vaccinated, they told me that they feared that the vaccine might cause impotency and was anti-Islam. Many feared long-term harmful effects. We made them speak to Muslim doctors and muftis to address their fears and concerns. There is widespread lack of faith against the vaccine in the villages in Nuh, despite the best efforts of the administration,” said Mr. Chaudhary.

Namita Jaggi, Chairperson of Lab services and Infection Control and Chief Education and Research, Artemis Hospital said that vaccines against COVID-19 prevented severe disease and deaths and was the only tool for ending the pandemic.

“There is still widespread hesitancy fuelled by misinformation and mistrust. People, especially in rural areas, believe that vaccine will cause impotency, serious side effects and could even kill. Many female patients come to hospital and ask questions like if the vaccine would disrupt their menstrual cycle or could reduce their fertility. Even after getting appropriate answers, they do not take the vaccine. We know from psychology research and practical observations why people hesitate to vaccinate across all the countries. There are five universal reasons called 5C Model — vaccine confidence, vaccine complacency, constraints, collective responsibilities and calculation,” Dr. Jaggi added.

Urban disease

“People do not have confidence in the safety of the vaccine and mistakenly believe that it can cause life-threatening adverse reactions when no clear cut causality to vaccines has been proven. There is vaccine complacency among the community that they do not need to vaccinate because they will not catch the virus, especially in rural areas where people still believe this virus cannot catch them as they do not eat junk food and work in fields. According to them, this is an “urban area disease".

Then there are constraints like concerns about cost, time, I’m too busy, I’ve got a stressful life, or I work all day and where is the time to take the vaccine. Sometimes logistics are difficult. The fourth C is a collective responsibility which is all about if everybody else vaccinates, then I do not need to. The last and fifth C is calculation, where people do extensive research about the vaccine, read a thousand articles and weigh the benefits and still remain unsure about getting the jab,” explained Dr. Jaggi.

She said the pandemic had been an infodemic with information thrust upon people from various sources, not fully researched or checked for authenticity. “Just as a jab inoculates a harmless form of the virus in order to avoid a severe disease in case we are exposed to it, an inoculation of a clear and transparent message would prevent vaccine hesitancy in individuals if they come into contact with misleading false information,” said Dr. Jaggi.

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