Omicron has enveloped the world, but global news has lately been compelled to give plenty of airtime to the drama unfolding in Australia over tennis superstar Novak Djokovic (famous as ‘The Djoker’ among his fans). Djokovic’s continued refusal to have a Covid-19 vaccine and his alleged falsification of medical records has landed him in hot soup down under. Earlier this week, he narrowly avoided deportation after a brief court battle with the Australian border authorities over violating Covid-19-related border controls.
It is still unclear if the 20-time Grand Slam champion will be able to compete at Australian Open, which starts January 17. The Aussies, who have had to endure some of the toughest public health measures and border-control directives during Covid-19, are not amused at Djokovic’s behavior. Nor are public health experts, who have been worried about the message the general public receives from celebrities that voice strong opposition to Covid-19 vaccines, at a time when those jabs are about the only defense.
There is no shortage of famous personalities making public their resistance to Covid-19 vaccines. For instance, several famous American singers, actors, athletes and politicians have been vocal about not getting the jab (and this issue pre-dates Covid-19). Their words, however, have consequences beyond their own health, as they misinform their fans and followers. Vaccine hesitancy is a real issue, which absorbs even reasonable people who have concerns about getting immunized. Celebrities are no scientists, and muddying the waters is the last thing they should do.
If he is able to step on to the court next week, the Djoker is likely to get plenty of boos from the local crowd. But it wouldn’t matter to him, for he seems to have grown accustomed to not being loved the same way Federer or Nadal have been adored. Tragedy is that a player of his stature has now become the face of the anti-vaccine (anti-vax) movement. Djokovic must have fans in millions among kids and adults around the world, and the message they are receiving is not the kind that a hero should be relaying.
Thankfully, here at home in Pakistan, Covid-19 vaccines have not been made controversial by any misguided celebrities (yet). There is all kind of polarization in the country – political, ethnic, religious, etc. Therefore, it is good to see that prominent personalities in the country have not taken to participating in uninformed debates on vaccines (yet). However, the continuing poliovirus threat shows that there is a resistance that still runs in segments of the population, especially when it comes to inoculating children.
As per the January 12 NCOC data, half of the eligible population had been fully-vaccinated (two shots) against Covid-19. While daily vaccination rate continues to be impressive, covering the next 30 percent of eligible population (and expanding coverage to children) is likely to hit rough patches. As public health experts have pointed out, vaccine hesitancy in Pakistan can be eased by focusing on women, young people, and marginalized groups, and by providing them information and access to Covid-19 vaccines. Celebrities, meanwhile, best keep away from the topic, and just let the healthcare experts do the talking!