Still many worry about safety of COVID-19 vaccines; accurate information essential
The nation's first COVID-19 vaccinations scheduled to start Friday is stirring concerns as well as expectations.
The vaccines to be injected on the day are products developed jointly by AstraZeneca, a global biopharmaceutical company, and the University of Oxford in England.
Patients and workers aged under 65 at sanatoriums, nursing hospitals, and other high-risk facilities will receive the first batch of the vaccine. The inoculation of seniors aged 65 and older will be put on hold amid concerns about the side effects of the vaccine in the elderly. Those aged 65 and older and other healthy adults are scheduled to receive vaccinations from April and July, respectively.
The exclusion of people aged over 65 seems to have been affected by the unabated skepticism of the AstraZeneca vaccine in Europe due to a lack of studies into its effects on older people. Switzerland declined to approve the AstraZeneca vaccine, citing insufficient data.
According to a survey by the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency, 93.8 percent of all 366,959 people in the first vaccination group agreed to receive vaccinations. It is a good thing that many people decided to get vaccinated, but it is unclear if other lower-priority groups will show consent as high as the first priority group. Vaccination is not compulsory, but if a person refuses to receive injections, his or her turn will be pushed back until after November.
The government plans to achieve herd immunity by November by vaccinating more than 70 percent of people in the country by September. To achieve the goal, vaccine doses must be secured in time as planned and many people must be willing to take the vaccines.
There are some issues to resolve for the success of the unprecedented and crucial vaccination project. Among others, people must keep up their trust in COVID-19 vaccines. It is fortunate that most members of the first priority group consented to vaccination itself, but the controversial efficacy of the AstraZeneca vaccine in over-65 people in a situation where people have no choice of vaccines may shake their conviction about vaccinations.
To build up trust, it is important to relay the correct information. If additional information comes out about the efficacy and safety of vaccines, public health authorities must inform people in an immediate and transparent manner.
The government must also try to keep the vaccination consent ratio high. Of those under-65 and healthy, more than a few still distrust vaccination. In a survey by Kstat Research, 31.1 percent of respondents said they would postpone or refuse vaccine shots. In another survey by the Korea Society Opinion Institute, 45.7 percent said they will delay their turn in order to "keep watch on the situation" regarding the effects of vaccines. A Korea Gallup poll found 71 percent of respondents worried about the side effects of COVID-19 vaccines.
Should certain vaccine doses produce serious side effects, vaccination objection will likely spread like wildfire.
The government must accept criticisms that it had fomented public distrust of vaccines. When it came under fire from news media for lagging behind other countries in securing relatively more efficacious vaccines, the authorities highlighted the side effects of vaccines. They even said that it was fortunate for Korea to watch other countries to see what problems may arise from early vaccinations.
In order to vaccinate more than 70 percent of people by September, the government must try to eliminate uncertainties in securing vaccines as scheduled. Many people criticized its complacency over vaccinations. South Korea is the last in 37 members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development to start coronavirus inoculations. Its exclusion of those aged 65 and older from the priority group to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine will increase its vaccination burden in the second or third quarter.
Ordinary people are not experts on COVID-19 vaccines. They may be swayed easily by misinformation. Providing accurate, undistorted information is vital.