EDITORIAL: In a recent statement, federal minister and head of the National Command and Operation Centre Asad Umar urged all frontline healthcare workers (HCWs) to register themselves for Covid-19 vaccination, saying they are our priority. They, of course, are more vulnerable to the virus because of the nature of their work. In fact, 130 of them have lost their lives in the line of duty. Yet not many may be happy about getting priority treatment, or to be vaccinated at all. Although so far no survey has been conducted to assess the extent of refusals, anecdotal information suggests a lot of frontline caregivers have opted out. In fact, the problem is not peculiar to Pakistan; survey reports from the US also show the rate of denials among HCWs is much higher than expected even though trials involving tens of thousands of volunteers in several countries, including the US, have proven the safety and efficacy of various vaccines. Apparently, the doctors are more accepting of the scientific evidence and hence willing to take vaccine shots than the nurses and others working in hospitals.
An official of the National Institute of Health tried to underplay the problem, citing a similar trend in the US to state that it took around two months for vaccination campaign there to pick up pace. Other reports, however, still speak of lower than expected rates of participation by American HCWs. Talking to journalists in a similar vein, Adviser to the Prime Minister on Health Services Dr Faisal Sultan noted that so far over 52,000 HCWs have been vaccinated, adding that “we are getting complaints that HCWs had to wait at AVCs (adult vaccination centres) so it has been decided that they can get themselves vaccinated from any AVC, and there will be no delays.” He also described in great detail how various vaccines are to be administered to the rest of the population in a phased manner, starting with the most vulnerable group. Indeed, many people are eagerly awaiting their turn, and those who can afford are readying to buy vaccine from private companies, recently given the go-ahead by the government to import certified vaccines. Nevertheless, reluctance to get the shots remains quite significant, raising concerns about public health implications.
There are different reasons among HCWs for resistance to the Covid-19 vaccines, such as doubts about efficacy and worries over side effects. Many others either refuse to acknowledge the existence of the lethal virus or think the threat is being magnified, even as the media regularly report death and infection statistics. As regards the HCWs, the government should make it mandatory for them to take vaccine rather than relying on voluntary registration. And to incentivize rest of the vulnerable sections of the population big names need to lead by example. The prime minister, chief ministers, members of their cabinets as well as popular public figures, including cricketers, past and present squash players as well as actors, should get vaccine jabs and seen doing that so the people appreciate the message that no one is safe until all are safe.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2021