Scepticism about vaccines clouds outlook for defeating coronavirus

 John CarterSenior Editor, Political Economy

23 January 2021

Hello again, 

Having overcome the challenges of developing coronavirus vaccines and begun the process of distributing them worldwide, a crucial question has cropped up: will people in high-risk areas voluntarily take the jab? In this issue of Global Impact, we explore the resistance to vaccinations amid concerns about quality, effectiveness and possible side effects. 

Bhavan Jaipragas, Senior Correspondent, Asia Desk

You can bring the vaccine to the people, but will they take the jab?
In the span of a year, Singapore has gone from being hailed as the gold standard in curbing the Covid-19 pandemic to suffering an embarrassing surge of cases among migrant workers to once again reasserting itself as a success story.What lies ahead for the wealthy Southeast Asian city state in its fight against the virus may well be a harbinger of what’s to come for the rest of Asia – and the world. One big problem on the horizon is “vaccine hesitancy” among sceptical Singaporeans who argue they don’t need to be inoculated since the country has done such a good job keeping the numbers down.

Experts have sought to emphasise that this is a red herring. A fuller opening up of the economy – and the reopening of borders – cannot happen without the backstop of having a large enough proportion of the population inoculated.Such vaccine hesitancy has also been evident in China, with doctors among those sceptical about taking the vaccines after reports of inoculated healthcare workers falling ill in the United States and Britain.That said, Chinese citizens are purportedly the most willing to receive the vaccine among citizens of 15 countries, including the US, Japan, France and Britain.

In Hong Kong, however, some 40 per cent of 412 Hong Kongers below the age of 30 surveyed recently said they were averse to getting the vaccine.They cited doubts about its effectiveness, worries about side effects and a lack of choice as the key reasons for their hesitancy.The question of choice is also plaguing the way governments are thinking about their respective vaccination programmes.

Cambodia, despite its extremely close ties with China, has indicated it will wait for guidance from the World Health Organisation on approved vaccines – even though Beijing had included it in a list of countries to receive priority access to Chinese-made vaccines. 

Health officials in Asia and elsewhere are hoping that the examples set by political leaders volunteering to vaccinate themselves, as well as the steady trickle of data on the effectiveness of various vaccines, will help quell scepticism about them. These are early days yet. In the months to come, vaccine scepticism may not be the only issue weighing on governments’ minds.As more people get their shots, attention will next turn to the actual impact the vaccines are likely to have – particularly their impact on asymptomatic infections – and how long the protection they provide will last.Of concern among medical circles is the mixed picture that vaccine trials have so far thrown up, in terms of how well the various shots protect the elderly and those with serious pre-existing illnesses.
Explainer: How soon will the shots be available in Hong Kong and the mainland, and what are the possible side effects
If Covid-19 vaccines cause side effects, who pays: makers or governments?
China’s coronavirus vaccines: is Southeast Asia ready to trust them?
When Asian states plan to vaccinate their people for Covid-19
•Authorities across the region have set out conservative timetables for starting immunisations, ranging from several weeks to the latter half of 2021•Singapore was quick to approve Pfizer-BioNTech shot, but there are fears lower-income countries in the region are already being left behind

This is the ninth story in a series on the Covid-19 disease, one year after it first emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan. Here, we look at the challenges facing countries as they attempt not only to procure trusted vaccines for desperate populations, but also to implement efficient immunisation programmes. Please support us on our mission to bring you quality journalism.

From Manila to New Delhi and Tokyo, authorities in the Asia-Pacific are making cautious preparations for a historic roll-out of vaccines for Covid-19Read more
A Covid-19 vaccine may be developed, but will people use it?

•Vaccination hesitancy may harm the chances of reopening communities

•Medical experts say rapid vaccine development is causing public anxiety but wide-scale immunisation may be the only route back to a safe society

Shanghai mother Julia Wei has been closely following Covid-19 vaccine development updates. As a frequent business traveller, she believes an effective vaccine will be the key to a return to social and economic normalcy.Yet as progress is made – four out of seven candidates developed in China are being tested for broader safety and efficacy before they can get regulatory approval – Wei said she and her six-year-old daughter would be unlikely to voluntarily get a Covid-19 jab. The public has been told a vaccine might be available as soon as the end of this year, or early next year. Read more
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