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Jakarta Post

Expert warns of false narratives hampering COVID-19 vaccination drive

  • News Desk

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Sun, December 20, 2020   /   03:10 pm
Expert warns of false narratives hampering COVID-19 vaccination drive A medical professional at a community health center (Puskesmas) in Tapos, Depok, West Java, administers a vaccine during a COVID-19 vaccination simulation on Oct. 21. (JP/P.J.Leo)

As Indonesia gears up to launch its first COVID-19 vaccination drive, several experts have shared their thoughts on possible disruptions to the program.

Griffith University epidemiologist Dicky Budiman warned of the possible misleading narratives touted by anti-vaxxers. 

In a virtual public discussion called Indonesia Siap-Siap Vaksinasi (Indonesia Gears Up for Vaccination) cohosted by Padjadjaran University (Unpad) alumni on Saturday, Dicky suggested that the government take preventive measures against anti-vaxxers by launching a communication strategy prior to the vaccination program.

“Several steps need to be taken before launching [the vaccination] program, such as preparing an effective communication strategy,” said Dicky. "Conspiracy theories [surrounding COVID-19] have turned people into ignorant individuals."

According to a journal published by The Lancet on Sept. 10, a team of researchers led by Alexandre de Figueiredo mapped global trends in vaccine confidence between 2015 and 2020 using data from 290 surveys in 149 countries, involving 284,381 individuals aged 18 years or older. It reported that confidence in the importance, safety and effectiveness of vaccines has fallen in many countries.

In 2019, the World Health Organization also identified vaccine hesitancy as one of the top 10 global health threats.

Read also: Only one in three Indonesians willing to pay for vaccine: Survey

Dicky went on to say that people had expressed negative sentiments against the COVID-19 vaccine and created false narratives to portray it as a dangerous thing. As this would lead to public distrust, he advised the government to make an effort to combat these anti-vaxxer sentiments.

“[Such false claims] would make it harder for some of our people to accept the vaccine,” he said.

Furthermore, many people are still taking the pandemic lightly because of hoaxes and misinformation circulating the internet. 

Nevertheless, Dicky emphasized that the vaccine would not immediately end the COVID-19 pandemic, especially as Indonesia was still detecting up to 6,000 new cases. Had the tracing process been conducted properly, the number of daily new cases would have reached 20,000, he added.

According to Dicky, in order to establish herd immunity, Indonesia needed to vaccinate 80 percent of the total population. 

Meanwhile, Indonesian Medical Association (IDI) COVID-19 task force chief Zubairi Djoerban said Indonesia’s positivity rate was still high.

Read also: Sinovac vaccine has no critical side effects, BPOM says

“Our COVID-19 positivity rate is 18 percent, which is still high compared to the ideal target of 5 percent,” Zubairi said at the discussion.

Regarding vaccines, he said that regardless of the authorization for emergency use, which is based on interim reports, not a single vaccine candidate had finished late-stage trials.

However, he said that using the vaccines based on interim reports was considered “quite successful” because so far, no critical side effects had been found. 

The first batch of a COVID-19 vaccine produced by China’s Sinovac Biotech arrived in Indonesia on Dec. 7 and is currently stored in a warehouse belonging to state-owned pharmaceutical company PT Bio Farma in Bandung, West Java.

The government has yet to announce the exact timeline of the vaccination program as it is still waiting for the Indonesian Food and Drug Monitoring Agency (BPOM) to issue the emergency use authorization. (dpk)

 

Editor’s note: This article is part of a public campaign by the COVID-19 task force to raise people’s awareness about the pandemic.