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Vaccination rates stagnate in face of COVID misinformation spread

Experts reflect on Jordan’s vaccination rate, conspiracy theories, and importance of Defense Law No. 32

India Vaccination
(Photo: Jordan News)
AMMAN — In Jordan, awareness about COVID-19 risks is increasingly overshadowed by the spread of vaccine misinformation.

While some have bought into conspiracy theories about the vaccine, others fear its possible side effects, among other things.اضافة اعلان

Abeer Shishtawi, 48, told Jordan News that she has a phobia of doctors, vaccinations, and needles.

“Honestly, I am afraid of these things.

I do not usually visit doctors or take injections,” she said. “Some people received the COVID-19 vaccine and things did not work well with them.

I know people who died, experienced side effects and complications, or had strokes after taking the vaccine.”

Shishtawi said that as a housewife, she rarely goes out to public places that require proof of vaccination.

A 31-year-old teacher who spoke to Jordan News on condition of anonymity said that she does not only follow local and regional outlets but is also up to date with global news about the vaccine.

“At first, when I read about the origin of COVID-19, many stakeholders in America and China said that the disease could be a biological weapon, a conspiracy, or just a virus that have arisen,” she said.

“I feel that people’s minds are being manipulated … I think that some political aspects lie behind COVID-19 vaccination.

They are just doing experiments.” She also deemed COVID-19 vaccines a lost cause, given that the disease is an “ever-mutating virus.”
 
“Information about the vaccine is available everywhere. You can find it on YouTube, news agencies’ websites, and Facebook. All you have to do is to search,” she said.

She said she would rather get tested on a weekly basis because “the pandemic will not take so long”.

Over the course of the pandemic, officials condemned the government and the Ministry of Health’s efforts to raise awareness about COVID-19 vaccines.

Adel Belbeisi, the Ministry of Health’s secretary general for epidemiology and communicable disease, told Jordan News over the phone that the ministry “left no media outlet untapped”, made videos and pamphlets to raise awareness about COVID-19 vaccinations, and paid visits to those in charge of remote areas, including village chiefs, to help them “encourage their people to take the vaccine”.

“The number of people taking the vaccine witnesses both increases and drops,” said Belbeisi.

“We do not judge it on a daily basis … if we look at numbers by the week, about 320,000 and 330,000 people got vaccinated during the last week and the week before last, respectively, compared to some half a million three weeks ago,” he added.

According to Belbeisi, these numbers are “good”, but it is hoped that they will improve.

“Until now, we have not forced anyone to receive the vaccine. If people want to get vaccinated, they are most welcome.

Otherwise, there are other procedures for working individuals including conducting the PCR test twice a week,” Belbeisi said.
“Currently, there is no mandatory vaccination … and there are no discussions about making it so,” he added.

Belbeisi noted that soon, people would have to show vaccination certificates or 72-hour negative PCR tests to enter any place.

Mohannad Al-Nsour, member of the National Epidemiological Committee and executive director of the Eastern Mediterranean Public Health Network, told Jordan News that the vaccination process in Jordan is one of the best in the region.

Nsour said that the kingdom has succeeded in securing sufficient quantities of COVID-19 vaccines and administering them to people.

“The rate of coverage is very good. We aspire to be better.

However, we should appreciate the achievement and the good progress that has been made,” he said. “As a committee member and an expert, I am very happy with the ministry’s efforts.”

Nsour proposed developing a program to raise awareness among people above 60 — a group that is most at risk of contracting COVID-19, across all governorates.

“We have to be effective in conveying our outreach message to citizens wherever they are — in villages, rural areas, camps, or the Badia,” he said.

Ibrahim Bdour, former MP and member of the board of trustees at the National Center for Human Rights, said in a phone interview with Jordan News that people in general are not convinced of taking the vaccine.

“Convention comes first from having trust in the vaccine’s provider, i.e. the government, as well as in the media,” Bdour added.

Bdour noted that to push for inoculation, he suggested linking the vaccine with reopening sectors, which makes getting vaccinated a precondition for business owners to resume running their shops.

According to Bdour, 50 percent of people above 60 have not received the vaccine, which poses a problem given that this group is at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19.

He pointed out that lately, less people are getting vaccinated, which drove the government to issue Defense Order No. 32, “put pressure on people”, “force them indirectly” to take the vaccination.

Bdour said that, if people were prevented from going to their workplaces, or students from entering their universities, they would “involuntarily” register for the vaccine, but “oddly enough, the number of people getting vaccinated was reduced to half”.

Bdour noted that, at first, the number of people getting vaccinated stood at 100,000 a day, then it dropped by 50 percent and continued to decrease to 35,000 when Defense Order 32 was issued.

“Now, it is a tragedy that only 8,000 people receive the first dose per day, which I think is a very poor number,” he said
Bdour said that people feel safe now that the number of daily COVID-19 cases is decreasing.

Some 85 percent of hospitalized COVID-19 patients were not vaccinated, while the remaining 15 percent received the Sinopharm vaccine, according to Bdour.

On the other hand, Yayha Khreisat, head of the No to Obligatory Vaccination campaign and president of Arab Council Association for Prosthetic Eyes, previously told Jordan News that Defense Order No. 32 indirectly obliges citizens to take the COVID-19 vaccine by making it a prerequisite to getting back to workplaces and educational institutes, as well as to receiving medical treatment.

“This is considered as coercion and it violates Jordan’s constitution in terms of restricting Jordanians’ freedoms and rights to movement, education, health, and medical care,” Khreisat said.

Khreisat added that foreigners arriving in Jordan are allowed to undergo PCR tests that are valid up to 10 days, as opposed to nationals, whose PCR tests are only valid for three days.

“A PCR test should not be conducted twice a week given that from a scientific perspective, COVID-19 symptoms only manifest after a minimum of 10 days of getting infected,” Khreisat said.

Ameen Al-Otleh, community development officer at Misbar fact-checking platform, said in a phone interview with Jordan News that misinformation regarding the pandemic and the vaccine are widespread across the Arab world and Jordan.

“Ever since COVID-19 vaccination became available, people have started a campaign against it.

This campaign was based on questioning the vaccine’s safety and promoting the conspiracy theory,” he added.

According to Otleh, some rumors about the vaccine said that it may contain electronic chips, cause death or infertility, or turn people into zombies or crocodiles.

“As a proactive step, we had a partnership with the United Nations through the ‘Verified’ initiative that aims at providing people with true information about everything related to COVID-19,” he said.

Otleh said that under this partnership, Misbar publishes two videos a month to raise awareness about COVID-19 and the vaccine.

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