Covid-19 myths are as old as is the pandemic. Misinformation, misconceptions and myths spread like a wild fire thanks to digital devices and social networking sites.
By Nazeer Ahmed Arijo
While the world is making all out efforts to contain covid-19 only, Pakistan is thrust upon with cumbersome task of fighting with, and fixing the two pandemics – covid-19 and myths attached to vaccination.
Ccovid-19 myths are as old as is the pandemic. Misinformation, misconceptions and myths spread like a wild fire thanks to digital devices and social networking sites like the Facebook, WhatsApp, and Messenger etc. Myths surrounding the pandemic are doing rounds since its birth in Wuhan, a city of China.
Sometimes, an iceberg of misinformation becomes bigger than reality thanks to no monitoring mechanism and its negative impact looming large over multitudes of population. The case in point is the myths of covid-19 vaccines. The first myth about Covid-19 in Pakistan came from the corridors of power, with the PM Imran Khan calling it a common flu, needing no worries and requiring no precautionary measures. Whereas an army of federal ministers in conjunction with advisors following in the footsteps of the PM, downplayed the dangers of the pandemic having declared that drinking hot water and the hot weather could kill the coronavirus. The problem of the PM and some of his cabinet ministers is that of being Clever Dicks. However, the climbing curve of the Covid-19, timely containment strategy adopted by the Sindh government as well as the concerns convincingly conveyed by the frontline fighters i.e. doctors built public pressure on the federal government to grasp the gravity of corona crises. Thus the PTI led government’s myopia accompanied by casual attitude had culminated in crises. The rest is history needing no comment.
Myths continue to be churned out in our country. These initially revolved around the reality i.e. existence of the disease that there was no such a disease called Covid-19.
Mature citizens who had prioritized protective measures like the wearing of a mask, avoiding handshake, and ensuring social distancing were subjected to both mockery and taunting. They say to be sensible is to suffer in a society like ours.
The flourishing fiction after the pandemic made its footprint in Pakistan was that the sick people visiting government hospitals and corona treatment centers were injected to death and declared to be corona patients because the government was receiving amount in dollars from the global world on every casualty. This fear factor had deepened to the level that people with minor health issues avoided visiting the hospitals, as a result the number of OPD patients dropped. And people with corona symptoms refused to be COVID tested. Such propaganda lost it steam after the disease in question started devouring lives and hospitals became choked off with those suffering from whose very existence was denied.
After the pandemic has dawned upon the population, now myths are revolving around the COVID vaccines being administered to the masses.
Sterilization (castration -infertility); Pigs’ urine; diminishing sexual desire; an electronic chip to monitor; magnetic field; vaccinated area producing an electric current etc.
A literature proliferated vociferously by the way of social media that since the government’s population control program has gone down like a lead so the vaccines being administered to Pakistanis was aimed at making people infertile in order to diffuse population bomb. Some others came forward with the idea of countries producing vaccines being supplied to Pakistan, are being filled with Pig’s urine because those producer countries are intoxicated with hate of Muslims. And the recent videos went viral showing the vaccinated area becoming magnetic catching magnets; in another video, a bearded man could be seen showing a lightening bulb once it touched the area where vaccine had been administered. These fictitious stories being fed to the population do not end here.
One of the recipients living in my town who had received first doze, complained to close friends that his sexual desire power had decreased to considerable degree. This actually stemmed from minted myths one is hearing from here and there. These both unfounded and unscientific side effects attached to vaccine, discouraged some others who had shown their willingness after much persuasion to be vaccinated. A hoax attributed to a Nobel laureate was the last straw that broke camel’s back: that those vaccinated, would die within two years.
Negative propaganda against the vaccination being discussed has brought in its wake, disillusionment, discouragement and depression. A recent revealing report published in Dawn newspaper (8 June) should be an eye opener for all of us. According to the news and data made available by NCOC, around 300,000 people have failed to return to receive the second dose after receiving their first dose since the start of the vaccination drive on Feb.5. Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives Asad Umar, who also heads the National Command and Operation Center (NCOC), was quoted to have said, a call center was being established to contact such people and convince them to complete their vaccination.
This declining trend of being vaccinated speaks volumes about the population falling prey to mythological considerations. In order to navigate the nation from rough waters called COVID-myths calls for an urgent public engagement /awareness. In order to materialize this, a team of specialists comprising epidemiologists and other viral and blood diseases experts should be tasked with the responsibility of building a counter narrative against covid-19 myths with specialists giving their academic input through TV Talk-shows, conferences, proliferation of literature to be published in national newspapers especially read in rural Pakistan. The majority lives in rural areas, this majority being illiterate is more prone to propaganda being highlighted.
TV channels should, for the time being, replace political Talk-shows with COVID vaccines myths removing programs by inviting professional people from medical field. Doctors should also be tasked to make short videos negating COVID vaccine fiction and uploading the same on social media sites. Opinion makers also should educate the citizens through their write-ups that COVAC (covid-19 vaccine) has nothing to do with myths attached to it. The masses should be educated that there is no scientific evidence available suggesting such side effects the myth-mongers have circulated .The vaccine only boots our body defense i.e. immunity system enabling us to defeat the enemy called coronavirus. As the pandemic poses an existential threat to lives and means of bread and butter, so myth mongering of vaccine and sharing of the same on social media or any other platform be declared punishable offense. The cyber-crime wing should be activated to trace and catch those weaving vaccine myths into the psyche of society. Such an action is urgently needed in order to build a dam against fiction fomenting both unfounded and unscientific fears resulting in unwillingness to be vaccinated.
What we need to realize is that the pandemic has turned the world upside down and Pakistan in no exception. People have lost their loved ones and livelihoods all over the world. Various developing economies are teetering on the brink of bankruptcy following businesses shut downs, unemployment and poverty.
The United Nations’ International Labor Organization Director General recently revealed that “the working experiences of this pandemic for some have been of inconvenience, tedium, stress and frustration. For others it has been about fear, poverty and survival.”
Reportedly, the current pandemic is said to have killed 3.8 million all over the globe. And 21,376 have succumbed to ongoing coronavirus in Pakistan. The active cases are as high as 935,013 in our country.
The coronavirus has waged a war against us. We are in the battlefield, the enemy is threatening to take more lives and livelihoods, deterrence in this war lies in divorcing this Hamlet like dilemma “To be or not be vaccinated caused by myths”. What my dear country men need to realize is that there is no other way out than tracing patients, testing them and mass vaccination. An acknowledgement is due for the federal government for making centralized registration of Covid-19 vaccines, and the federating units establishing vaccination centers at taluka and UCs level in order to facilitate the population. This doorstep facility provided needs to be capitalized before it is too late. A greater responsibility is placed on the shoulders of the readers, media and state to educate the society about the importance of immunization program prioritized to prevent the pandemic. Corona crises are a national issue hence vaccine myths doing rounds, can be brought to an end with collective wisdom and responsibility. We have to educate our dear countrymen that renouncing the use of reason in the current covidized environment will prove to be suicidal. It has to be kept in mind that we have to fight with the two pandemics – one is the covid-19, and other one is myths of covid-19 vaccines launched by unscrupulous individuals; the former can be fixed with the vaccination and the latter with rationality. Sanity demands to be determined to receive the second dose and to register for the first doze.
We have to reach out to vaccination centers before we are brought to hospitals and put on ventilators.
[author title=”Nazeer Ahmed Arijo” image=”https://sindhcourier.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/Nazeer-Arijo-2.jpg”]Nazeer Ahmed Arijo is an educationist and a freelance contributor. He can be reached at email: email@example.com[/author]