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Failure to communicate

Despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, recent surveys show Filipinos seem reluctant to be inoculated once vaccines from various drug companies begin arriving later this year.

Failure to communicate

In one survey of 2,400 adult respondents, Pulse Asia found that nearly half or 47 percent said late last year they would not get themselves vaccinated, mainly because they were concerned about the safety of the vaccines.

Clearly, the government to date has done a poor job of convincing the public that the coming vaccines are safe and effective. A declaration from the Foreign secretary that “no aspiring great power will ever, ever distribute a vaccine that they do not believe sincerely is the best” is hardly reassuring in light of the long history of cover-ups by such powers, including China’s early attempts to clamp down on news from Wuhan, where the pandemic began.

Some of the reluctance, it seems, stems from skepticism over the safety and efficacy of vaccines developed in China, which will be the first to arrive in the Philippines.

Here again, statements by the Palace spokesman saying Filipinos will have no choice but to accept the Chinese vaccines do not help to foster confidence in them, no matter how logically the argument is made.

Safety concerns are also clearly related to the Dengvaxia debacle, in which the previous administration launched a massive immunization program against dengue involving hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren, only to find out after the drugs had been administered that those who had never been exposed to the virus could develop severe cases of the disease if they were given the vaccine.

This administration has been instrumental in prosecuting former government officials linked to the dengue vaccination program, but may have succeeded in casting doubt on the safety of all vaccines in the process.

The Department of Health (DOH), not known for its speedy response to public health crises, has acknowledged the need to do more to assure the public about the safety and efficacy of the coming vaccines. It also says it will work with the Philippine Information Agency on an information campaign to promote vaccination.

As the first vaccines are scheduled to arrive in February, the DOH needs to make up for lost time—and do a much better job at communicating with the public than some government officials have done. As they launch this long-overdue campaign, they might want to seek guidance from a timely, best-practices document released by the World Health Organization entitled “How to respond to vocal vaccine deniers in public.”

To date, what we’ve got here is failure to communicate. For all our sakes, health and other officials need to do better.

Topics: COVID-19 pandemic , vaccines , Dengvaxia , World Health Organization
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