Vaccine fears

The combination of the government’s incredulous ‘Dana’ month excuse, and out of context online information on the side effects of the vaccine has given rise to a wave of overnight vaccine doubters.

There are an increasing tribe of people, both online and in real life, declaring they will not take the vaccine.

If you ask them about the basis of their stand, it is mainly either word of mouth rumors or incomplete or even fake online news.

It also about a complete underestimation of the health impacts of COVID-19. Maybe in the next press brief the health minister should outline how tough COVID-19 is on the human body and also the lingering life long impacts which are yet to be fully grasped.

Bhutan’s homegrown and budding ‘anti-vaxxers’ should understand how their fellow compatriots have fared in other parts of the world.

Building their opposition to all vaccines based on unproven and disproved science, this group, even in the most developed parts of the world has led to outbreaks of Polio and other diseases that normal vaccines prevent in third world countries.

The anti-vaxxers are now one of the biggest barriers towards ending the current pandemic.

However, the vast majority of doubters in Bhutan are not anti-vaxxers, but are simply not adequately informed and so here the government must step up with full transparency and advocacy that does not treat its people like idiots or dismisses genuine fears.

The government should first explain that the COVID-19 vaccine like any vaccine is not a walk in the park and based on the trial data there may be side effects like headaches, nausea, muscle pain, fatigue, chills and injection site pain. An unlucky few may even get vomiting, fever and even flu like symptoms.

With so many doses given, the data does not show a direct scientific co-relation between deaths or other serious illnesses due to the vaccine. Otherwise, the vaccine would never be approved in the first place.

Given the large numbers that will be vaccinated, trying to associate every death with the vaccine will be as scientific as trying to associate the tea that the unfortunate person had for breakfast with his or her death. Unless you can prove it was poison tea, it was just a beverage the already sick or unlucky person had that day.

Vaccines are safe for the overwhelming majority of people, but there is always a miniscule number that will have to be careful. This same logic would apply with something like a peanut allergy. We all take peanuts or peanut butter or other nuts for granted, but there are a very small people who can suffer seriously due to it. It is here where the government’s focus will be needed.

In that sense the government is right to allow the regulatory process to be followed which will involve a close look at adverse reaction data from the world over. Bhutan is being unusually cautious for a well established vaccine, but that is the right way to go.

At the end of the day a vaccine will always carry some side effects and certain risks for a very miniscule portion of the population, but the benefits far outweigh the risks for the overwhelming majority of the population.

Chewing on your food carries risks of choking and dying but that does not mean we stop eating, or the rare airline disaster does happen but it should not define the millions of other safe flights.

“Who are you going to believe? Leading authorities on medical science, or 800 memes on your cousin’s Facebook page?”
Samantha Bee

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