The 31st of December, 2019 was the day it all began. Just as a new year, a new beginning, a new chance to start over was about to be set in motion, humanity was reminded of its superficial mortality. The World Health Organization’s Country Office in the People’s Republic of China picked up a media statement by the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission from their website on cases of ‘viral pneumonia.’ Today, we have the unfortunately fortunate retrospective knowledge of what that ‘viral pneumonia’ became; the Covid-19 pandemic.
As the death toll kept rising, so did the amount of pressure for anyone to create a viable solution to the plague. The plague took more than lives: It stole away our livelihoods. It destroyed businesses. It broke families. It embezzled our future. All of the experiences and memories that were rightfully ours were gone in the blink of an eye.
The world needed a hero, and a hero would soon arise from the ashes.
Whether motivated by a sense of duty or the inevitable cash cow spurred on by the laws of supply and demand, a vaccine was produced. The United Kingdom’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) gave temporary regulatory approval for the Pfizer–BioNTech vaccine, becoming the first country to approve this vaccine and the first country in the Western world to approve the use of any COVID‑19 vaccine. In an ironically poetic fashion, this was also in December, almost exactly a year after the virus was initially reported.
Alas, what should be an open and shut case where the inhabitants of the Earth get vaccinated and the curtains roll on happily ever after, maintains its status as controversial.
The “anti-vaccine movement” as it’s colloquially called has historically been around since the cure for smallpox back in 1796. People back then doubted its efficacy and many religious groups even called it “an affront to God.” To a reasonable extent, the fear of a sharp object being thrust into your body while claiming to be medicine would have been a frankly terrifying prospect back when widespread evidence wasn’t available.
But that was an era more than 200 years in the past. Despite the rigorous vaccine safety systems in the modern processing of all but the shadiest of vaccines, the number of those who hesitate to get immunized keeps rising. This is one of, if not the most, dangerous mentalities to come out from the mind of man.
The Philippines in particular is known to cling onto, with a religious fervency, misinformed to outright absurdist beliefs based on tradition or non-scientific anecdotal evidence. How many times have you heard that you can’t do “A” because “B” will happen? Or, you must do “this” because a fantastical tragedy will be sure to ensue? These are beliefs that are deeply rooted in Philippine culture for better, and especially in this case, for much worse.
Though there is no truly objective conclusion to the origin of the red herrings of the medical world, it’s not much of a far cry to claim that some of the blame may come from our colonial past.
We are a westernized nation. That much is certain. Our preferences heavily skew towards the ‘mestizo’ “white good, black bad” dogma that our ancestors were heavily indoctrinated with. Social media and popular media are both close clones of Americanized society. Is it really that far fetched to believe that we mirrored our false medicinal pretenses off those in the west?
Take even a cursory glance at the dogmatic “anti-vax” beliefs of our previous oppressors, and you’ll find the same falsehoods. “Vaccines cause autism; Vaccines have microchips that illicit government control: Vaccines cause cancer.” and so on and so forth.
What makes it even worse is our disgustingly recent run-in with the reality of what happens when a vaccine is NOT developed enough. That reality was dubbed “Dengvaxia.” Sparing you the fine print, 800,000 children had received a vaccine that provided protection against Dengue, a disease that’s still very prevalent to this day. Out of that 800,000, around 10% experienced heinously negative side effects. The University of the Philippines’ Philippine General Hospital issued a report stating that three out of 14 children who died after receiving Dengvaxia indicated dengue despite immunization; several thousand more were later thought to have been in critical condition or passed away as a direct consequence of the vaccine.
With that instance, the seeds of scientific distrust bloomed into a poisonous flower. Almost instantly after the scandal broadcasted, statistics showed that fewer and fewer people got vaccinated. Ruled by paranoia, some mothers even refused to have their children get Hepatitis and Polio shots. The Department of Health then launched a “pro-vax” propaganda campaign, but by that point, it had already been too late. One slip-up and large portions ignorantly exposed themselves and others to life-threatening ailments.
Pharmaceutics isn’t an industry that you can just stumble your way through. The process of creating a vaccine can cost hundreds of millions. It takes years of reliable experience from some of the smartest people when it comes to medicine. Time, the most limited resource of all, is also immensely needed.
Keeping all of that in mind, from both an ethical and financial perspective, no one benefits from a vaccine that doesn’t work. Both the manufacturer and consumer don’t want to waste money. Both the administrator and the receiver probably detest killing people just for fun. Both the company and the customer have no desire to waste time. If so, who in their right mind would have an incentive for an unreliable or unsafe vaccine?
Vaccine hesitancy is a long and complex issue spanning hundreds of years. Built of fear and superstition, it plows through the population. Only with proper education can we see a world where Covid-19 has been assuredly eradicated. The opponent in this global war has shifted. We are no longer fighting a virus, we are fighting anxious ignorance. The battle is with Covid-19, but the war is with misinformation.