Conspiracy theories fuel Covid-19 vaccine mistrust in Pakistan

Islamabad, Mar 11 (efe-epa).- A month after the Covid-19 vaccination drive began in Pakistan, only half of the targeted health workers have received the jab so far, partly due to mistrust fueled by conspiracy theories.

The situation is reminiscent of the suspicion about vaccines against polio that is still prevalent in Pakistan because people have refused to immunize their children over anti-Muslim conspiracy theories.

Qaiser Sajjad, The secretary-general of the Pakistan Medical Association, told EFE Thursday that of the 550,000 health workers, only about 250,000 received the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine, the only available at the moment.

That is a poor start for a nationwide vaccination drive in the country of 220 million people.

“The vaccination of healthcare workers is very slow because there is confusion. There are conspiracy theories on social media. People follow (conspiracies) more than they follow the government,” Sajjad said.

The theories going around include that vaccine causes infertility, and women will grow mustaches and beards.

Another popular rumor is that vaccine officials will insert a surveillance device under your skin to track your moments.

“I am not sure if it is suitable for me and if I get it how it will react on my body and if there will be any changes in my body,” a doctor in an Islamabad hospital told EFE, who preferred to remain anonymous.

The doctor said he had not been infected with the virus since the pandemic began, and he did not believe he would contract it now.

“Why take the risk of being vaccinated for which I am not even sure,” he said.

Conspiracy theories are also popular with commoners.

According to Dawn newspaper, only 180,000 of the eight million Pakistanis over 65 had registered to receive a vaccine before the vaccination drive began for the elderly.

A federal ministry source, who preferred to stay anonymous, confirmed it, saying only 2.2 percent of the total target had registered to take the jab.

The phase to vaccinate the elderly began Wednesday, and there is still no data on the number of inoculated.

So far, 13,377 people have died of the pandemic in Pakistan, where 597,497 infections have been registered.

In the last 24 hours, the authorities recorded 53 deaths and 2,258 infections, according to government data.

The response to the Covid-19 vaccine is not very different from that of the polio immunization drive.

Polio is endemic only in Pakistan and Afghanistan because of the mistrust driven by the conspiracy theories related to the anti-polio vaccination program.

Eight-four polio infections were detected in Pakistan last year, down from 147 cases a year ago, but well above 12 in 2018.

There is a widespread belief that polio vaccination is an “anti-Islamic” act or that it is a Western campaign to control the birth of Muslims with infertility-causing agents mixed with the polio doses.

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