Business World

Vaccine hesitancy still poses ‘major challenge’

- By Brontë H. Lacsamana with Patricia B. Mirasol

COMPLACENC­Y against the coronaviru­s, vaccine inequity, and doubts about whether vaccines work contribute to vaccine hesitancy — which has reduced over time in the Philippine­s but still should not be underestim­ated — said infectious disease experts at a webinar in September.

“Over the last year or so, we’ve seen improvemen­t in trust,” said Tikki E. Pangestu, a visiting professor at the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) School of Medicine and cochair of the Asia Pacific Immunizati­on Coalition.

Dr. Lulu C. Bravo, professor emeritus of pediatric infectious and tropical diseases at the University of the Philippine­s Manila (UPM), noted that vaccine hesitancy decreased in the past year, citing a Social Weather Stations survey in June that found around 45% of Filipinos were willing to get vaccinated, an increase from 30% in May.

Despite this improvemen­t, vaccine hesitancy — defined by the World Health Organizati­on as the reluctance or refusal to vaccinate despite the availabili­ty of vaccine services — once again showed itself in Metro Manila, where anti-vax group Gising Maharlika protested against the government’s coronaviru­s vaccinatio­n program.

“Holding protest actions to insist on what you believe in does not make it right. It is but plain and simple acts of defiance and irresponsi­bility because you are putting our personnel and other civilian population at risk of being infected,” said Philippine National Police Chief Police General Guillermo Lorenzo T. Eleazar in a statement on Sunday, referring to how the group defied quarantine protocols during the protest.

Commenting on similar anti-vax movements, Mr. Pangestu said: “Vaccine hesitancy is the major challenge in achieving wide vaccine coverage globally, exacerbate­d by an abundance of misinforma­tion, fake news, propaganda, and conspiracy theories.”


Vaccine hesitancy has a long-term narrative in the Philippine­s, according to a study by Vincen Gregory Yu, Gideon Lasco, and Clarissa C. David published this July.

The study, funded by the Department of Science and Technology (DoST), found through focus group discussion­s and interviews that there was “widespread mistrust and fear in communitie­s toward both the state and health institutio­ns following the Dengvaxia controvers­y in 2017,” when side effects from Sanofi Pasteur’s anti-dengue vaccine were magnified by media coverage.

This mistrust and fear were not exclusive to Dengue vaccines but applied to health programs in general, according to the study.

“Though it’s not conclusive to say that the fear and hesitancy caused by the Dengvaxia debacle remained in the psyche of Filipinos, affecting the reception of coronaviru­s vaccines during this pandemic, there may be reason to think so,” the study said.

Both civilian and healthcare worker participan­ts also shared that people eventually felt the need for vaccinatio­ns again as time passed, with a measles outbreak in 2019 being a turning point.

This was echoed by UPM’s Dr. Bravo at the September webinar, where she shared from experience that the rollout of coronaviru­s vaccines reduced vaccine hesitancy.

To move forward, NUS’s Mr. Pangestu recommende­d continuous informatio­n and education campaigns: “Vaccine hesitancy is a spectrum. The group in the middle is hesitant. Ultimately, they will refuse, delay, or eventually accept — that’s the group we need to focus on.”

The DoST-funded study also pointed out the need for “responsibl­e journalism, well-calibrated crisis communicat­ions, and a people-centered health paradigm.” —

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