We have a curious attitude towards how to deal with matters involving citizens of our state. As an example, laboratories in Punjab are asking for a doctor’s prescription for the Covid antibodies test.
This is a curious requirement. Surely every person should have the right to know about the status of their own health, and whether a vaccine has produced the desired result, so they know how safe they are from Covid-19 and if they require a third booster shot of the dose. The idea, some experts suggest, is to prevent people questioning the efficacy of certain vaccines which are on the list of vaccines being delivered by the government.
Even more disturbing is the practice, apparently being carried out at government vaccination centres in the province, of not informing the patient as to which vaccine they are receiving at least until the needle is firmly in the arm. This again goes against medical ethics and the rights of patients. Several doctors have questioned this on air and over social media.
The other question is how well we are doing in vaccinating our population of over 220 million people. The reality is that even now, when vaccination has been opened up to all age groups over 18, only about one percent of the population has actually been vaccinated. Rumours and conjecture about the vaccine and its effects are widespread. Some apparently appear to believe the wildest conspiracy theories, such as the one suggesting that Bill Gates has magically inserted a chip into the vaccine, which will be delivered into the body when the shot is given.
This of course is scientifically impossible. No portion of a computer chip contains metal at any rate and cannot be inserted into a syringe containing medicine with a needle at the end of it. The videos played out over social media of a magnet apparently sticking to the point where the vaccine was delivered are essentially hoaxes, involving either a wet magnet which sticks to the skin temporarily, or even the use of some sticky material to make it adhere to that place while it falls off other parts of the body because the same glue or liquid is not used. The reason why people would go to such lengths to make controversial a vaccine, which can save lives and prevent terrible suffering for those who have been hit by Covid or potentially face the risk of falling victim to the disease, is difficult to understand.
There are other conspiracy theories too, such as one that suggests that women would be made sterile if they receive the dose. Other even more extraordinary theories question whether the vaccine is in any way intended to prevent Covid and hold that instead the person receiving it will become sick with the disease. This may stem from the fact that so many vaccination centres are badly overcrowded, with no social distancing, and sometimes no masks in use, resulting in people becoming infected at the place of vaccination.
The government must adopt a transparent and open policy, informing people about the vaccine, the efficacy rate of various vaccines, and how well they have worked in other places, as well as in Pakistan. Withholding this information, or trying to make it more difficult for people to obtain it will do no good at all. The more information that is openly available, the less suspicion and controversy there will be. At present people say they are scared of receiving the vaccine because they believe it could have harmful effects. This has to be countered by using celebrities and other persons to be seen on television receiving their dose so that people are satisfied that it would not in any way hurt them or members of their family.
Since the vaccine uptake in Pakistan has been extremely slow, as is indeed the case in other countries including the US, other tactics also need to be adopted. Perhaps a door-to-door campaign needs to be put in place along with medical workers who can satisfy people that the vaccine is safe, effective, and can save them from a disease which can in many cases, have horrendous consequences and lead to a slow, painful, and lonely death.
Complications such as the black fungus disease seen in India only make matters even more frightening. The Punjab government in particular needs to reconsider its policies and adopt a more transparent approach to the delivery of the vaccine and allow people to check the level of immunity so that they, along with their health advisors, can take suitable action if required. The current situation only adds to the suspicion which constantly lurks in the minds of people. At same time, with all those over 18 now eligible to receive vaccine and most of our population aged under 50 years of age, the government must also use other platforms to put out the message of how important vaccination is to be able to create herd immunity and prevent the entire country from falling victim to Covid-19.
This does not mean that if people are not vaccinated each and every citizen will be afflicted by the coronavirus. But it does mean that if enough people receive the vaccine, they will be able to protect others from acquiring the infection and passing it on from one person to the next. Evidence is now also merging that the vaccine prevents the spread of Covid-19 and this then makes it all the more important that people be vaccinated, that they be kept fully informed about the vaccine and its effect, and that acquiring the vaccine be made as simple as possible so that people can possibly receive it in their own home or at private clinics and pharmacies as is the case in other parts of the world.
The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor.