Misinformation could derail vaccination programme

Bhutan has achieved quite a feat in the past three days.  More than half of the entire eligible population has been inoculated.  The turnout at the vaccination centres has been impressive.

From Prime Minister to health workers, those attending toll-free numbers – everyone involved in the nationwide campaign has been working hard.  The health ministry reported that only about 2 percent of those who took the vaccine had adverse reactions, mostly headache, fever, and nausea.  Some say there could be more as many have not reported.

Health experts have repeatedly explained that if one does not show severe symptoms within half an hour of getting the vaccine, the side effects that emerge later would not be life-threatening.

Many have called in to ask for leave from work as they recover from the side effects.  There are others, who have locked themselves up at homes and would not even take medication.  Some have stopped their medication for diabetes, blood pressure or other chronic ailments, which have led to complications.

Doctors say it is safe to continue medicines that were prescribed.  Stopping the medication is more dangerous than the interactions they may cause with the vaccine.

People have to ask health experts if they have doubts or confusion and not give in to gossip.  We learnt from the lockdowns the critical role the toll-free numbers can play in helping people get reliable information.

The bigger problem is reaching the doctors.  People complain the toll-free numbers or the doctor’s number given at the vaccination posts remain mostly engaged.

We have also seen the trouble false or misinformation can cause during such major events.

Not surprisingly, there is a lot of misinformation and confusion among the public and it is spreading fast.  That is a serious side effect of being a gossip-mongering society and the gullibility of our folks serves as fertile grounds for such false claims.

But currently, such a trend could derail the success of the campaign.  For the past three days, a team of officials have been vaccinating residents in the highlands of Lunana and negotiating the treacherous trails by night moving on to the next settlement.  The problem, in similar scattered and remote settlements, is compounded by the lack of easy access to the communication network and health experts.

While mass media can help, local leaders and Members of Parliament could help clarify the confusion and amplify the reach of messages from the health experts.  We have to be prompt.

The next few days of the campaign will be critical to the success of the campaign.  If these issues are not resolved or measures put in place, as they see relatives and friends suffer from the side-effects, many could refuse the vaccine.  All we have achieved thus far could come to nought.  

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