Covid vaccine: what to do about the sceptics?

While press voices are criticising the slow progress of vaccination campaigns within the EU, many Europeans are sceptical and don't want to be vaccinated at all. According to an Ipsos study, a significantly lower number of people want to be vaccinated against Covid-19 in the EU than in other regions of the world. Commentators reflect on how to tackle this.

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Die Presse (AT) /

Information now!

It's a bad sign indeed when nurses and carers refuse to be vaccinated, Die Presses writes:

“In nursing homes here, as in Germany, there is a reluctance to be vaccinated. Not among the residents, mind you, but among the staff. This isn't just about protecting the elderly, but also about ensuring that the already limited numbers of nursing staff are not further reduced due to quarantine restrictions. And it sends a dangerous signal: if people who should know better don't want to be vaccinated, what message does that send to everyone else? At the nursing homes people are saying that there was too little time for information campaigns. At the very least this should not happen in a country where everything tends to be done slowly anyway. We must learn from this. Right now, if possible.”

Diena (LV) /

Not different to tetanus, polio or hepatitis

Diena can't understand why everyone is stressing that vaccination is voluntary:

“Why? Because the government associates the issue with democratic values. But then we must say: Stop pretending! Why is vaccination against tuberculosis, diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, polio, measles, hepatitis B, chicken pox, pneumococcus and rotavirus not voluntary for different groups of people according to the vaccination regulations? Or does anyone claim, after all that has happened in the world in recent months, that Covid-19 should not be assigned to the same category as the above-mentioned diseases?”

Azonnali (HU) /

Sceptics must not be stigmatised

The debate about vaccination must not become a battle of belief, journalist Péter Juhász warns in Azonnali:

“Even those who are fundamentally against making coronavirus vaccination compulsory believe, from what I've seen, that vaccines are of decisive importance in fighting the pandemic. ... It can be harmful to public political discussion when an author who is in favour of vaccination portrays those who disagree with him as followers of 'superstitions' who defend 'crazy ideas about chemtrails, implanted chips and the like'.”

AbrilAbril (PT) /

Don't beat around the bush!

AbrilAbril complains that people are being misled in the debate over whether vaccinations should be mandatory:

“Reality turns the ordinary citizen, who craves immunity, into a guinea pig. But he is not aware of this fact because he is not being exposed to it openly and transparently. ... Governments assure us that vaccines are not mandatory. In Spain, however, citizens who do not get vaccinated will be recorded in a government registry that will be distributed to all European Union member states. ... Official and unofficial speculation about the introduction of mandatory 'vaccination certificates' is also nothing new. ... Apparently, ways are being worked out to make mandatory what, according to the official discourse, is not mandatory.” (IE) /

Media coverage also has side-effects

Unobjective media reports about health complications following vaccination give the anti-vaccine movement a boost, warns:

“Tackling the infodemic will be a critical concern for governments and health authorities around the world in 2021. ... It is clear it is not just disinformation - rightly or wrongly, people have concerns or confusion about the science and these need to be addressed. It is also vital that journalists think about how they report on vaccines, particularly any claims about side-effects or health complications. The anti-vaccine movement will exploit these stories even if there is no proven link to vaccination. Claims of this sort already derailed the HPV vaccine.”

Gazeta Sporturilor (RO) /

Even stars won't be believed

Romanian tennis player Simona Halep declared that she wants to be vaccinated. This won't do much to dispel the Romanians' scepticism, the sports newspaper Gazeta Sporturilor fears:

“Together with Simona, we live in a country where almost 70 percent of the citizens either reject the vaccine or are at least sceptical of it. This is perfectly democratic. Just as it is democratic to have the lowest consumption of soap and toothpaste per capita in the EU. Not to mention deodorant. ... Here in this country Simona's announcement will not go unnoticed. The most important athlete Romania has will now be viewed with suspicion, as part of the system, as an interesting element of a worldwide conspiracy theory.” (LV) /

Analyse vaccines live on TV

Journalist Sandris Točs explains on his blog how important it is for society to be properly informed:

“It's not the health minister or the chief epidemiologist who should appear on TV and give his assessment of the Covid vaccine, but a doctor. And he or she should explain both the positive effects and the side effects, so that the audience can ask their questions live and without any time limits on Latvian TV, which is financed by our tax money. The Latvians want to hear a thorough and comprehensive analysis. And only then will they be able to decide whether to get vaccinated or not. Then everyone will also treat the restrictions differently.”

Sydsvenskan (SE) /

No repeat of 2009

Although the Swedes are usually quite happy to be vaccinated, their willingness has dwindled since the scandal ten years ago when hundreds of young people began suffering from narcolepsy as a side effect of the swine flu vaccine, Sydsvenskan points out, but reminds readers that circumstances have changed:

“The scandal ten years ago and the suffering since then did not go unnoticed. The Public Health Agency's pandemic preparedness plan stresses key lessons from the mass vaccination in 2009. Nowadays, the requirements for the vaccine are stricter and reports of possible side effects are constantly updated. The advantage of the Covid-19 vaccines' being delivered in stages is that any side effects can be detected early and, in the worst case, the vaccination can be stopped before the entire population has been immunised.”

The Guardian (GB) /

Why the scepticism is understandable

The Guardian can see why so many people take a critical view of vaccines:

“It is true that big pharma is often short on scruples; that governments don't always make the right decisions about people's lives; that medical staff can be dismissive of valid concerns; and indeed that vaccines are not entirely without risk. In the US, where there is a horrific history of white scientists experimenting on black people without their consent, and ongoing racial discrimination in healthcare, African Americans are much less likely than whites to say they would take a Covid-19 vaccine, despite being twice as likely to die from the illness.”

Les Echos (FR) /

Make vaccine certificates mandatory

With recent surveys indicating that only around half of the French want to be vaccinated against Covid-19, Les Echos sees only one solution:

“If vaccination is on a voluntary basis, you can bet that we'll also spend Christmas 2021 at home in lockdown. The health and economic crises call for the issuance of a Covid-19 vaccination certificate - a simple QR code - for those who work high-risk people in hospitals or at nursing homes. ... And each of us must be required to have such a certificate to participate in social and community activities: sports, train and air travel, cinema, stadiums, university and retirement home visits. ... Otherwise we will miss the huge opportunity that science is offering us.”

Kurier (AT) /

Don't stigmatise those who refuse the vaccine

Der Kurier fears that massive restrictions could be imposed on those who refuse to be vaccinated:

“Many people do not want to be vaccinated immediately. This opinion must be respected. Some are fundamentally opposed to vaccinations, while others are afraid that this substance, which was developed and approved so quickly, is dangerous. And it's a fact that the RNA vaccines that are now considered one of the most promising alternatives have never been used in practice. Most experts consider them harmless. ... What could come now, however, is mandatory vaccination through the back door. Only being able, say, to board a plane, attend mass events or dance at a disco with a valid vaccination certificate. ... And dividing people into those who have been vaccinated and those who refused. Next they'll have people wearing a sign saying they haven't been vaccinated. No thank you.” (ES) /

Let us do our civic duty has a clear message for vaccination sceptics:

“One would have thought that the problem would be pushing and shoving in the queue to be first to get vaccinated. ... But now we are presented with a miracle, with an astounding 40 percent of the population that says it doesn't want to get vaccinated. What has happened to this society? According to the government's plan, the reluctant will be able to watch hundreds of thousands of old people go first. Those who brought us through the post-war period and who will hurry to protect themselves and fulfill their civic duty with pride and relief. Vaccination is not just a personal decision. ... It is also a great and beautiful act by all humankind aimed at securing the common good. ... Let us finish this now and stretch out our arms to feel the needle that will make it possible for us to embrace each other again.”

Sözcü (TR) /

Too few questions are being asked

The speed with which coronavirus vaccines are being introduced on the market should be subject to carefully scrutiny, Sözcü believes:

“In less than a year a vaccination has been found and sales have started! ... Until last year it took at least ten years to develop a similar drug. ... So come on children, off you go to get vaccinated! Apart from a handful of people around the world, nobody is questioning vaccination, and those who do are treated as if they were crazy. Medicine is being made incontestable with the term 'hostility to science'. ... One must always be aware of the economic dimension of health and medicine.”