India launched the world’s largest vaccine drive earlier this year. But even before the roll-out could take place, the country witnessed many efforts that began to spread vaccine hesitancy, and confuse and mislead the public on the vaccination process.
The pandemic can be overcome only with herd immunity, when 80 percent of the population have antibodies either from natural disease or from vaccination. And for that we need to overcome vaccine hesitancy. Unfortunately, there is always going to be some people who will have anxiety and uncertainty with vaccines leading the vaccine hesitancy — while others are misguided to become hesitant to vaccinate due to misinformation.
Vaccine hesitancy is a reluctance to be vaccinated or get someone dependent on them vaccinated. And vaccine politics involving the Covid-19 vaccine has played a significant role in vaccine hesitancy. Internationally, the Pfizer-Bion Tech vaccine was given an emergency use authorization in the United States. But as initial reports of adverse effects of the vaccine got highlighted, it led to conspiracy theories and vaccine hesitancy. AstraZeneca’s vaccine also faced difficult situations in many European countries — for all the wrong reasons.
In India, a licensing controversy involving Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin initially led to people shying away from it as they felt it was an “imperfect vaccine”. And at district hospitals, the allegation was that corporate chains got more vaccines allotted than nursing homes.
So what fuelled vaccine hesitancy? Rumours, information that was either inaccurate or accurate but twisted and used out of context and circulated in a network of people. Misinformation, or inaccurate information. Disinformation, or misinformation designed to achieve an agenda. And the infodemic — abundance of information, including mis/disinformation on social media. Finally, there’s heuristic behaviours, or cognitive shortcuts that simplify decisions, especially under conditions of uncertainty. Herd immunity is the most decisive route to freedom from Covid-19. We have safe and effective vaccines and we need to ensure that people trust it. And that comes from greater data transparency and consistent messaging on safety.
(The writer is Founder Chairman & Neonatologist, Cloudnine Group of Hospitals, Bengaluru. Views are personal)
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