Unverified information, unfounded fears and misleading warnings being spread on chat groups and social media about the dangers of Covid-19 vaccinations can have a very real effect of influencing personal decisions about the need for inoculation, including in Singapore, where vaccination is not compulsory. Many of these shared messages appear induced to cast doubt and undermine the effectiveness of the vaccines. They include stories about doctors, other health workers and members of the public who died after receiving jabs. One message described how several thousand people, vaccinated on a single day, were left unable to perform normal activities or to work; another alleged that more than 200 Israeli citizens were diagnosed with Covid-19 days after getting the vaccine.
Whether motivated by fear, ignorance or a deliberate anti-vaccine agenda, the barrage of misinformation has come into public discussion and risks generating resistance and a reluctance to participate in national and global vaccination drives. It requires governments and health authorities to counter them with calm, rational and fact-based rebuttals. It is accepted that vaccines are not the silver-bullet cure-all against Covid-19. But they offer crucial protection that can help stem the spread and decrease fatalities. It is also scientific fact that vaccines of any kind do have mild or serious side effects which, in extreme circumstances, may prove fatal. Which is why the health authorities remain cautious about vaccinating all and sundry, and do advise against jabs for individuals with specific conditions or ailments.
Many who have received doses of the first two vaccines by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna have experienced side effects that generally recede quickly. Some others developed a serious, but treatable, allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. The reality, however, is that the health authorities are aware of the possibility of such complications and ameliorative measures are in place and remedies available. Governments factor in the consequences of unavoidable side effects into their vaccination programmes as these unfold globally. A pertinent case is that of Norway, where a series of deaths among the elderly after immunisation raised questions of whether vaccination might be too risky. But the health authorities there clarified that there is no evidence of a direct link between the 33 deaths and the vaccines. Those who died were already seriously ill.
All in all, the real and far more dangerous threat to patients and wider society is Covid-19 itself - not the vaccine designed to fight it. Societies must weigh the balance of considerations in response to the outbreak, one that lies between immunising the population and doing little or nothing to stem the scourge. Singaporeans too would do well to not fall prey to scaremongering.