THE less-than-enthusiastic response of registered front-line health workers in KP, as well as the reported reluctance shown by medical staff in Islamabad, to be vaccinated against Covid-19 is troubling. According to a report, the KP health department chalked out a plan to vaccinate 30,000 health workers, but many were hesitant. Earlier in the week, the department had managed to inoculate only a handful of healthcare workers, prompting the authorities to consider vaccinating hospital staff who have not been registered as well as second-tier medical personnel. True, there have also been administrative drawbacks. But the main reason behind the low numbers is that healthcare workers want to see how the vaccine has affected others, while some are waiting for the Oxford vaccine AstraZeneca to become available in Pakistan. At present, hospital workers in Pakistan are being administered the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine. Similar concerns have also been witnessed among healthcare workers in other countries, including the US, with reports that nursing home staff in Ohio and California have refused inoculation. Refusal and scepticism by healthcare workers do not bode well for the confidence of the general public. Besides remaining exposed to Covid-19, doctors and other medical staff are unwittingly sowing the seeds of doubt in the minds of the people who would be hesitant to get the shot refused by those who are supposed to address their health needs.
Given this atmosphere of suspicion, the National Command and Operation Centre must give priority to a national awareness campaign. Over a period of time, willing doctors and public figures should be seen taking the vaccine and dispelling wild conspiracy theories. Here, health experts can explain how vaccines are developed and put to rest fears that their preparation was rushed in any way. Continued and growing refusal from front-line healthcare workers will have a disastrous effect on the programme. The government’s work does not stop at procurement; success of the programme will be demonstrated by the number of those who are vaccinated against the virus.
Published in Dawn, February 13th, 2021