Misinformation, disinformation mar Covid vaccination in Karachi

Karachi

KARACHI: Around 50 percent population of Karachi, Pakistan’s mega city and business hub, particularly females and laborers in informal workplaces, could still not be vaccinated against Covid-19 pandemic due to misinformation and disinformation including rumours, myths and faiths, reveals an investigative report released by PPI on Thursday.

According to the Sindh Health Department’s data, Karachi has 12.85 million people above 12 years of age out of which 6.7 million (around 50%) have been vaccinated so far. The official statistics endorse the impression about the slow pace of vaccination in the city having a mammoth population.

This investigative report was made by PPI’s Bureau Chief M Nawaz Khuhro under an investigative journalism fellowship offered by Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF) in collaboration with Media Matters for Democracy as part of the project titled Actions for Countering Disinformation and Information Value System Empowerment.

Elaborating the impact of false and misleading information about vaccine, Pakistan Medical Association (PMA) Secretary-General Dr Qaiser Sajjad said, “False information is being circulated on social media that those getting vaccination will die after two years or suffer infertility or the vaccine jabs will develop a microchip in arm through which location of the vaccinated persons will be monitored by foreign countries.”

He said, “There is no truth in these misleading rumours based on propaganda and unscientific myths. “The vaccine-skeptics use social media platforms, particularly WhatsApp, Twitter and Facebook, to spread misinformation and disinformation showing vaccines as a health hazard while some reports in mainstream media, sometimes, also spread such rumors,” said Qaiser.

He said that the public willingness to get the vaccine increased in Karachi after the government warned the citizens of stopping their salaries, disconnecting cell phones, banning air travel and restricting entry of students above 12 years of age in educational institutions in case of not getting the jabs.” The people’s willingness also surged when private organizations made vaccination mandatory for all their employees with SOPs.

The majority of health and other civil society experts believe that the government’s coercive measures might be a good way for the protection of the people from Covid pandemic. The investigation further reveals that most of the vaccine’s recipients don’t trust Chinese vaccines because of the misinformation. In Karachi and other parts of the country, mostly Chinese vaccines – Sinopharm and Sinovac – are being administered to people. However, citizens have some trust in US-manufactured Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines.

“Conspiracy theories, rumors and mis/disinformation about COVID-19 vaccines are circulating not only in Pakistan but also across the world that has affected the acceptance for vaccines among many people,” said Muhammad Naeem Qureshi, President at National Forum for Environment and Health Karachi.

Karachi tops the list of most populous cities of Pakistan with a population of 14.91 million. The first case of COVID-19 had been confirmed in this mega city on 26 February 2020, when a patient in Karachi tested positive for the virus while returning from Iran.

To combat the pandemic, the federal government had constituted a high-level National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) to synergize and articulate unified national effort and to implement the decisions of National Coordination Committee (NCC) on COVID-19.

The investigation found that despite the emergence of dreaded variants of Delta and Omicron in Karachi, the majority of citizens in Karachi, including housewives, vendors, shopkeepers and those working at informal workplaces are unwilling to get vaccination due to above mentioned myths and beliefs.

Shahjee, an owner of a hotel near Sindh Secretariat in Karachi, said that the vaccination was a conspiracy to develop infertility among people. But PMA General Secretary Dr Qaiser Sajjad dismissed this rumor as saying the vaccination does not develop infertility at all, as fact is that vaccinated women are developing babies and giving them safe births while inoculated marriages are on their peak and immunized couples are producing healthy babies.

A housewife, Nusrat Khuhro, a resident of Gulistan-e-Johar, is of the view that the Covid-19 jab causes side effects. She said that his doctor brother also advised her to get vaccination but she still doesn’t want it because of fear of the vaccine’s reaction.

Dr Qaiser says Covid jabs have very minor side effects like slight fever in some people, especially in those having a weak immune system. The vaccines do not cause side effects in all people as they are safe and well recognized by WHO. There is no death case reported from Covid vaccines in Pakistan as yet, which shows there is no harm from the vaccination, he said.

Nazir Ahmed and Abdul Rasool, two brothers working in banks as security guards say that they were forced to get vaccine jabs by the office order that their salaries would be stopped in case of non-compliance.

“Even with new variants’ arrival, vaccines remain one of the most effective tools to protect people against serious illness and death from SARS-COV-2,” said Dr Mariangela Simao, WHO Assistant-Director General for Access to Medicines and Health Products. ‘This aims to increase access particularly in lower-income countries, 41 of which have still not been able to vaccinate 10% of their populations, while 98 countries have not reached 40%.”

The government’s response for the prevention of COVID-19 includes, deploying interventions for strengthening clinical management, infection prevention and provision of Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) to frontline health workers, availability of laboratory diagnostic capacity, biosecurity/biosafety surveillance and reporting, health workforce preparedness and emergency response. In addition, social sector programmes, development partners, financial institutions and civil societies all are currently engaged in different capacities to fight against the pandemic

According to the Economic Survey of Pakistan 2021, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the emergence of the novel coronavirus a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) in January 2020. The first wave of COVID-19 claimed 6,795 lives, infected 332,186 and left behind 632 on ventilators. The government announced a second wave of COVID-19 on 28 October 2020, when there was a sudden increase in active cases from 6,000 to 11,000. The third wave of COVID in Pakistan started on 17 March 2021, when daily cases reached 3,000 with a positivity rate of 10 percent.

Sindh health department data shows that a total of 1,025 ventilators are available in Karachi out of which 550 are allocated for Covid patients while only 84 are in use by the Covid patients. Number of beds available with oxygen facility are 2,619 out of which 7,562 are allocated for Covid patients while only 502 are in use by the Covid patients. This shows that the Sindh government has made sufficient arrangements to tackle Covid situation, the investigation added.

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