Vaccine Hesitancy in COVID-19 and what we can do about it

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Mr. Muhammad Waleed Chaudhry is currently a 4th year medical student at the Aga Khan University, Karachi, Pakistan. He is affiliated with the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), cordial partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writers and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.

Vaccine hesitancy refers to postponement or refusal of vaccines. It has become a major issue across the globe today. With so much misinformation across social media platforms, distrust of vaccines themselves, conspiracy theories, distrust in people of colour which stems from structural racism and lack of equitable accessibility; one could understand why people might choose not to get the vaccine. Furthermore there are members of the population who believe that COVID-19 may just not be serious enough to warrant getting one vaccinated. In Pakistan, I have heard concerns regarding the vaccination leading to infertility, causing abortions or just not being religiously acceptable.

Before moving onto the approach to addressing this kind of hesitancy, it is important to first recognize the impact vaccine hesitancy can have and why it was identified by the WHO as one of the 10 top threats back in 2019. Herd immunity occurs when a significant part of the population is immunized to a certain disease hence causing a reduction in risk of spread of infection. Vaccine hesitancy serves as an impediment to achieving herd immunity. Hence with each vaccination one could assume we are not only protecting ourselves, but also the people we interact with in our lives every day.

It is imperative to understand that resolving this issue requires taking a multifaceted approach. In times of confusion, we tend to look at people we are familiar with. This provides an opportunity for celebrities, community representatives, religious leaders and grass-root healthcare workers to step up and help reduce hesitancy towards vaccines. Healthcare professionals need to be considerate towards these people and answer their queries with the utmost regard and in the simplest way possible for clarity sake. It is important that healthcare professionals regain the trust of people who have had it lost for whatever reason so all of us can work towards a healthier global population. Even medical students such as myself can help mitigate confusions regarding COVID-19 to the best of our abilities. Campaigns could be run to raise awareness – social media or journals could serve as a viable platform for such activities. Other communication strategies include publishing researches, articles, participating in popular talk shows to reach audiences and educating patients in the hospitals.

I firmly believe that in order to reduce vaccine hesitancy, all of us need to work – no matter what our role may be. I sincerely hope that we are able to do so and, in that process, save the lives of countless others, if not ours.

About the author

Muhammad Waleed Chaudhry is currently a 4th year medical student at the Aga Khan University, Karachi, Pakistan. He is serving as Chief Administrative Officer for Quadragon – a student run NGO. He is particularly interested in palliative care, research and aims to pursue a career in oncology. He likes to volunteer in local activities and play basketball in his spare time.

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