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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Pakistan’s vaccine hesitancy: Myths vs Facts

According to Dr Aneela Kamil, people in Pakistan are reluctant to get vaccinated as they believe in various conspiracy theories and horror stories regarding the adverse effects of vaccines.

The history of vaccination campaigns dates back to 1796 when British doctor Edward Jenner developed the first vaccine against a contagious disease, the Small Pox. Jenner demonstrated that infection with mild cowpox virus conferred immunity against the deadly smallpox virus.

This novel idea received repulsion in many parts of the world including Sweden. An anti-vaccination campaign started in Stockholm (1873-74) questioning the effectiveness of vaccines as well as the impact of vaccination on individual rights and religious beliefs.

Read more: Anti-vaccine propaganda more dangerous than Covid?

Fortunately, Pro vaccine groups always outnumbered their opponents and humanity survived the next four centuries with advancements in vaccine development leading to the near eradication of deadly diseases.

Today, we have a list of 29 vaccine-preventable diseases. A vaccine-preventable disease is an infectious disease for which an effective vaccine exists. If a person does not get the vaccine and dies from such a disease, the death is considered a vaccine-preventable death!

Read more: Vaccine passports: to be or not to be?

Access to vaccines should be fair

Recently, Covid 19 has been included in the list of these 29 vaccine-preventable deaths. Covid vaccines, although approved for emergency use, seem to hold the promise of restoring the world order, the hope for all global citizens to boost their immune system against the ever-evolving offender.

To achieve the desired outcome vaccine has to be available equally and should be acceptable to the inhabitants of the north and south of the globe.

Read more: COVID-19 vaccine is a ray of hope but is it a ray of hope for all?

World Health Organization (WHO) in partnership with UNICEF and some other NGO’s initiated the COVAX program to highlight the importance of equitable access to covid-19 tests, treatments, and vaccines.

Lessons learned earlier in history remind us that no one is safe unless everyone is safe on the planet. It was felt important with regards to the Corona vaccine because the United Kingdom, Canada, and the USA have acquired doses of vaccines much more than their requirement and according to a survey there are countries in the Global South where vaccine delivery may be delayed till 2023.

Read more: Looking for vaccines: what is Pakistan doing wrong?

Pakistan’s reluctance

The other big challenge is vaccine hesitancy in Pakistan, which is defined as the refusal to get vaccinated even when it is available.

Fear of adverse reactions, stories of acquiring Covid-19 post-vaccination, strong belief in the conspiracy theory of industrialized countries who planned to wipe out the Global South by using genetically engineered virus/ vaccines are rampant.

Lack of confidence in the locally available vaccines is among the top concerns in Pakistan and the world over. There is yet another popular belief that if death is destined by corona, nobody can avert it!

Read more: Are vaccines being deployed as part of hybrid war?

In America, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended Pfizer-BioNTech, Janssen/J&J, and Moderna to be used for adult vaccination programs, whereas Pfizer alone is considered safe for children beyond 12 years of age.

Pakistanis on the other hand had only one option initially, the Sinopharm which is a Chinese vaccine. Recently, AstraZeneca has reached Pakistan through the Covax program and further 13 million doses of Sinopharm, Sinovac, and Can Sino Bio are due from China.

A select group of Pakistanis refused to avail of the Chinese vaccines as they wish the best for them, which can be none other than the vaccines Americans are getting!

Read more: WHO approves Sinopharm vaccine: China to produce 2 billion doses

My personal experience of Sinopharm has been excellent. Some soreness at the injection site was the only discomfort I felt for few hours. When I went for my second jab, I asked the nurse if this is a real vaccine or just saline water? The Nurse smiled and said, “people are having a reaction to it, this means it is more than saline water!”

Success of Sinopharm

Various types of adverse reactions have been reported about all vaccines used the world over. Most of the rare severe allergic reactions happened to people with a history of allergies, yet a vast majority of vaccine recipients were apprehensive and associated all sorts of symptoms as adverse effects of the vaccine.

Canadian Medical Association and Danish Health authority have halted the rollout of Astarzeneca due to a risk of blood clots and case reports of stroke. Individuals are reporting serious side effects on social media about almost all types of vaccines.

Read more: Seven deaths in UK among AstraZeneca jab recipients after blood clots

The good news for Pakistanis is that Sinopharm has been officially accepted by WHO in the emergency vaccine list on 7th May 2021. 42 countries all over the world have also accepted this Chinese vaccine which involves the injection of inactivated virus (SARS-COV-2) to stimulate an immune response.

The virus is treated with a chemical to alter its genetic material such that it does not multiply within our bodies but helps our immune cells to identify the foreign body and produce antibodies against it.

Read more: WHO approves Sinopharm vaccine: China to produce 2 billion doses

On any further exposure  to SARS-COV-2, an adequate immune response (overall 78% protective against Covid) is launched by our bodies.

The current scenario

The Global North is mainly using vaccines based on two different mechanisms. Pfizer and Moderna are RNA vaccines while AstraZeneca and Janssen are viral vector vaccines.

According to CDC, all these vaccines are neither inactivated nor modified viruses but harmless portions of proteins that serve as instructions to our cells for further protein synthesis. In this way, Covid specific proteins are displayed on some cells which stimulate our immune system to produce antibodies and learn how to fight covid-19.

Read more: Quad to counter China on ‘COVID Vaccine Diplomacy’

In Pakistan, slightly more than 2 million adults have been vaccinated which means approximately 218 million are still waiting for their jabs. According to National Command Operation Center (NCOC), 76 covid deaths were recorded for Pakistan in the last 24 hours while 4000 in India, 499 in the USA, and 12153 worldwide.

WHO’s SITREP for 15th May 2021 calculated similar statistics with a global burden of confirmed covid deaths as 13043 including 83 for Pakistan.

Read more: NCOC accused of reducing Covid tests on purpose?

It is true that we do not know much about the effects of available vaccines but not getting the vaccination will reduce the herd immunity and will prolong the road to recovery.

The author has done MBBS, MCPS, FCPS, MCCEE, and is a consultant Obstetrician & Gynecologist at Mega Medical Complex. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.