Vaccination hesitancy in Meghalaya
There are no dearth of conspiracy theories circulating on social media particularly on WhatsApp about people dying or having severe reactions after receiving the anti-Covid vaccination. Some claim that those who are vaccinated still get Covid and die, so what’s the point of subjecting the body to something that can alter the body’s DNA? Such theories are not based on science but on other beliefs induced by religion. Prof Jeffrey Almond of Oxford University and others like him say that injecting RNA into a person doesn’t do anything to the DNA of a human cell. It works by giving the body instructions to produce a protein which is present on the surface of the coronavirus. The immune system then learns to recognise and produce antibodies against the protein.
But anti-vaxxers mostly from the West are peddling misinformation and conspiracy theories aimed at eroding trust in the COVID-19 vaccine and the public health systems that are disseminating them. In the latest attempts to undermine the vaccination rollout, activists are amplifying the deaths of those who died of old age or underlying health conditions after receiving the shot. In other instances, vaccine-hesitant activists are manufacturing stories of deaths related to the vaccine that never happened. These groups are also latching onto reports of real deaths following the shot, blaming the vaccine and disregarding medical information that other causes are to blame. Medical experts say it’s a case of emotion versus science. In certain cases, vaccine-hesitant groups are simply making up fake stories of deaths tied to the vaccine.
While headlines and arguments make an emotional grab, Dr Panayiota Kendeou a professor in the department of Educational Psychology at the University of Minnesota cautions that individuals need to look deeper at the science and the data. Kendeou is a contributing author of ‘The COVID-19 Vaccine Communication Handbook,’ a practical guide created by an international group of scientists aimed at improving vaccine communication and countering misinformation. According to the handbook, if 10 million people are vaccinated and the vaccine had no side effects whatsoever, then over the following two months it can be expected that 4,025 of those vaccinated will have a heart attack, 3,975 will have a stroke, 9,500 will have a new diagnosis of cancer, and 14,000 will, unfortunately, die.
Across India, people are queuing up for the vaccine but there aren’t enough to go around especially for the 18-44 age group. Hence, it’s not India as a whole that’s having vaccine hesitancy but the northeastern states in particular that are influenced by anti-vaxxers from the West. The message to vaccinate needs to go out from the pulpits and from society and community leaders. If this does not happen soon, Covid will overwhelm Meghalaya. Meanwhile, those in the 18-44 age group that are ready to be vaccinated should be prioritised lest we have vaccine wastage.