OF TREES AND FOREST
Pulse Asia, in its November 2020 Ulat ng Bayan national survey conducted November 23 – December 2, 2020, noted that while 95% of Filipino adults reported awareness of the development of COVID-19 vaccines, a near majority of Filipino adults (47%) would not get vaccinated against COVID-19, because of their concern about the safety of such vaccines (84%). Only about a third of Filipino adults (32%) are willing to be vaccinated.
In my previous columns, I discussed the need for government to lay the foundation for the logistical requirements of procuring and distributing the vaccine. If we believe this survey, we may need to also embark on a massive information campaign to convince our people on the importance of getting inoculated.
Comparative to the rest of the world, we are at the low end of countries in terms of their populations willingness to get vaccinated. In a 15-country survey conducted December 17-20 among 13,500 adults by Ipsos and the World Economic Forum, China was on top with 80% agreeing they would get a vaccine when it becomes available. This was followed by Brazil (78%), Mexico (77%), the UK (77%), Australia (75%), South Korea (75%), Canada (71%), US (69%), Germany (65%), Italy (62%), Spain (62%), and Japan (60%). South Africa (53%), Russia (43%), and France (40%) reported low intent to get vaccinated.
Ipsos also noted that in every country, “between 57% and 80% of those who say they would not take a COVID-19 vaccine mention being worried about the side effects.” Doubts about its effectiveness are the second-most common reason in many countries, cited by as many as 45% in Russia.
Even the United States which has a politically divisive attitude towards vaccines has more of their citizens willing to be vaccinated. According to the Pew Research Center, 60% of Americans said they would definitely or probably get a vaccine for the coronavirus, if one were available today. About 39% say they definitely or probably would not get a coronavirus vaccine, though about half of this group – or 18% of U.S. adults – says it’s possible they would decide to get vaccinated once people start getting a vaccine and more information becomes available (underscoring mine).
That last part, I think, is very instructive. Some of the respondents, at least in the US, will change their minds about not wanting to get vaccinated if “people start getting a vaccine” and “more information becomes available.” This is why government needs to be very careful about the information it gives the public about the vaccines. Information needs to instill trust among our people that the vaccines went through rigorous reviews and are safe.
We need the vaccines fast but we should not shortcut the process because that will undermine the credibility of the vaccines and will ultimately be detrimental in our overall goal of ridding our country of the coronavirus. Government needs to invest in an information campaign that will convince people of the safety and effectiveness of the vaccines. This information campaign will only be credible if proper scientific protocols have been followed in approving the use of the vaccines. In this age of social media, government must also prepare to counter disinformation campaigns on social media.
There is also a need for government to ensure that the distribution of the vaccines is organized and fair. People need to see a smooth process as we roll out the vaccination program so that they will be encouraged to get vaccinated themselves. We need to do these things now because we need to vaccinate as many people as we possibly can. And we cannot do this if people do not trust the vaccines they are getting.