Stumbling Blocks On Covid-19 Vaccination Freedom Path!

Every day we hear from our governments and health authorities that Covid-19 vaccination is the freedom path; the more of us that are vaccinated the greater the chance of ending lockdowns and returning to that which we have known as normal living. But also, another loud voice keeps hitting our senses to uncomfortable levels and that other voice comes from the so-called anti-vaxxers or people who are against vaccination. This voice keeps telling us among other things related to “control of people” that the governments want people vaccinated so that the rich behind vaccine manufacture can get even richer through the money they will make on vaccines. Granted, amassing wealth through vaccine sales may well be true, but if the same people have such strong views against big money-makers, it is rather peculiar that they don’t say the same things about people producing the food we are buying or consuming or beverages we drink as they do for vaccine manufacturers.

We are in a war against lies, a war against misinformation, a ferocious war to have enough people trust their health providers, their doctors when it comes to Covid vaccination – after all, they trust them and have trusted them for everything else to do with health.

The arrival of the first coronavirus vaccines less than a year after the pandemic began blew away the previous development record of four years, which was held by the mumps vaccine. Once the vaccines were produced it was clear that social scientists and public health communications professionals must clear another hurdle: ensuring that enough people actually roll up their sleeves and give the shots a shot – two doses per person. It is said that somewhere between 60 and 90 percent of adults and children must be vaccinated or have antibodies resulting from infection to arrive at the safe harbour known as herd immunity, where the whole community is protected. In Australia the public has recently been told that reaching 80% of adults vaccinated will mean safety with which our lives can regain freedoms we had prior to the pandemic and lockdowns.

At the same time the anti-vaccine group among us started distributing on social media a video of men in police uniforms chasing, grabbing, dragging, and even hitting people in a park and falsely explaining to the public that the video represents Australian police hunting people down to take them for forced vaccination! Then there was an awful false flyer supposedly issued by Australian Health that on a certain date in July supermarkets would close. Then we are told how the vaccine will change our DNA!  

Prior to Covid-19 the only lockdowns we have known in our midst were those placed in operation during a terrorist act. Certainly, for Sydney Australia, the last lockdown prior to Covid-19 pandemic occurred in its business centre, to protect people in their workplaces or who were shopping, while the so-called Lindt Café on Martin Place siege, 15-16 December 2014, played out and ended with two innocent people killed. To my understanding lockdowns have always been about safety of people’s lives or their health, and lockdowns during the Covid-19 pandemic are construed as such by most people, including myself, even though most of us are tempted to criticise them as they are very inconvenient to say the least.

I live in Sydney, and I have had the opportunity to experience in “real time and real life” the effects prolonged lockdowns have on people that psychologists worldwide have been writing about. As a trained and experienced Psychologist, myself, I recognise these effects perhaps more easily than those not trained in the field of mental health. These effects are amplified in the so-called “ethnic” communities, particularly among people who do not have adequate use of the official language used in the country they live in. And so, in my case, there are members of the Australian Croatian community who may have found themselves is a state of confusion and anxiety regarding Covid-19 vaccines. The government has certainly provided avenues to important information in all community languages, sadly however, “word-of-mouth” appears to be the easiest channel to “watch and hear”, and that channel is more often lacking important details than not!

The consequences of lockdowns manifest themselves in a variety of psychological outcomes, such as anxiety, worry, disinterest, depression, and general health weakening to name just a few. Most of these psychological conditions, as a matter of retaining one’s own sanity, are likely to produce or promote a plethora of sensationalistic information feeds without checking its veracity or are susceptible to being affected by such sensationalistic information, frequently to their own demise or damage. We are, as a result, faced with copious amounts of misinformation and disinformation seemingly designed to “scare” people off Covid vaccination even if some of this misinformation may be true but does not apply, half-true or a total fabrication. The negative consequences of Covid lockdowns also include economic downturn and job losses or income losses and, hence, concerns towards food, housing, and employment security. 

The negative consequences of lockdowns further include information overload that can be perplexing, causing panic and anxiety. With abundant time on people’s hands due to lockdowns communication with others becomes very important and so, this time around, Covid-19 lockdowns are manufacturing their own source of panic and anxiety. Pro-vaccination and anti-vaccination movements have taken over our lives, it seems, to the point of despair. Mistrust in medical and scientific profession is often promoted on the streets when it comes to Covid-19 and yet the pure truth is that we trust the same professionals with all our other health problems. The incessant bombardments with misinformation or disinformation are creating fear. On the one hand, the country’s official information that comes from our government and highly regarded professionals steers us in the direction of vaccination. Vaccination has become the condition that will dictate our future degree of freedoms as a community and as individuals. And, indeed, having known closely some people who had contracted Covid-19, some of whom pulled through after terrible hospital treatment schedules and some of whom had died with or from Covid-19, there is no doubt in my mind that the official information we are receiving is sound and beneficial.   

On the other hand, we also receive, at the same time, bombardments of information (most often misinformation or disinformation) from the so-called anti-vaxxers. The anti-vaccine movement is not a new phenomenon and has occurred in most of the infectious disease outbreaks in past, however, due to the internet and social media, their message these days appears to be spreading faster than ever before. While there are credible exceptions to this stance from credible professionals around the world, these movements tend to present the Covid-19 vaccine as more harmful than the disease itself by linking vaccines with other illnesses (e.g., in 1998, the measles-mumps-rubella [MMR] vaccine was linked with autism) and sure death. The COVID-19 anti-vaccine movement appears to be fuelled by conspiracy theories, false beliefs, a lack of confidence among stakeholders, and a presumed lack of transparency (e.g, efficacy, and safety) in the vaccine approval process. In addition, many people appear to harbour low-risk perceptions of COVID-19 infection due to relatively good recovery rates. And, regretfully, while there are credible professionals on the anti-vaccine platform, their often solidly professional message gets distorted in its promulgation process, rendering it more dangerous than any lie can ever be.  

While I personally do not mind receiving information from anti-vaccine movement members, I do become irritated by the sheer volume I receive and am saddened and angry that members of this movement do not seem to correct with their followers any information they sent, which has been proven to be false or wrong. Hence, leaving lies to float freely in the air!

The COVID-19 pandemic and mitigation measures such as lockdowns have increased the prevalence of mental health issues through the disruption of mental health services. The anti-vaccine movement may further prolong the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic and may increase mortality or morbidity, resulting in an exacerbation of health inequalities and flaring the economic and social disparities. This may lead to not only an increase in the burden of COVID-19 infection but also mental health issues in generally but particularly so within the ethnic communities.

Being a well-educated and highly experienced Psychologist, and a proud member of the Australian Croatian community, I often find myself wondering about our immediate and long-term future in these Covid-19 lockdown months, about our well-being. I also feel compelled to write this article in the hope that people feel the safest after having spoken to their doctor about Covid-19 vaccination. Covid-19 is too serious an illness to leave its possible terrible effects on us to unreliable information.

It is a given that we all have a right to our own opinions and others can agree or disagree with them. Some may choose to forgo the shot and claim they are making a personal decision. But the continued spread of Covid-19 affects us all. And the truth is, the virus doesn’t care about so-called individual rights and freedoms. It simply infects whatever host it can find, Labour or Liberal politicians, young or old, disabled, immuno-compromised, and anti-vaxxers alike. If anything, remaining unvaccinated by choice – and not because of lack of access or contraindicated health conditions – sounds more to me like shirking an individual responsibility than exercising an individual right. Ina Vukic     

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