Sunday 24 September 2023

Poverty, fears and fake news keep people away from vaccination

Areas such as Barranca, Chacarita and Esparza, in Puntarenas, indicate that the problem is no longer a lack of doses or organized work, it is to convince the population

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QCOSTARICA – Four of the eight health areas with the least vaccination against covid-19 are in the province of Puntarenas: Barranca, Chacarita, Esparza and Quepos. The reality is more complex than a figure greater than 30% of unvaccinated people because in these areas several factors come together that scare the inhabitants away from the vaccinations.

One of the vaccination posts in Barranca. Photo: CCSS

These factors are social exclusion, poverty, fear of losing their job if they ask for permission to be vaccinated or if they have some temporary side effect. Also, the fear of the spread of fake news and even religiosity add up in the first three areas to complicate the work of vaccinators.

Read more: Half of Costa Rica’s unvaccinated population is concentrated in 13 health areas

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Brigitte Ramírez Rodríguez, a nurse from the Barranca health area, an area with 35.6% of those over 12 years of age without inoculation, indicates that the problem is not only having one of the most populous districts in the province. The economic and social situation, she says, means that people do not see vaccination as a priority.

“Vaccinators have gone house to house, to bakeries, supermarkets, educational centers, and places where most people are. They have also worked weekends until 9 pm. Every day there are about 100 users, we keep moving, slowly. Today we have some colleagues on the street in one of the most problematic places in the country to see who wants to get vaccinated,” she stressed the health professional.

“In Barranca we have a lot of unemployment, there are women heads of households who have to see to their families’ sustenance every day to be worried about a vaccine, going to be vaccinated can mean losing income. That is what we (they) face every day,” she added.

Chacarita has conditions similar to Barranca, according to Cecilia Barrantes, a nursing supervisor for the Central Pacific region of the CCSS. There, poverty, unemployment and looking to provide, keep people away from vaccination centers. In this area the advance is a little higher, but 30.8% still persists without injecting.

“It is a population that does not reach the vaccinator. The vaccinator must go out to look for them. Both physically and virtually: walking the area, messages on Facebook, WhatsApp, on the radio, by all possible means,” she said.

Once they are convinced for the first dose, we face a bigger job getting them out for the second dose. There are those who say that with one dose they have enough and do not plan to go again, and others, due to a side effect such as fever or headache for one day, do not want to go for a second.

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“For them, it is very hard. They have to take care of children, family, seniors and they have to go to work, and allocating time for two vaccines can be complicated, especially if they feel a little sick after the vaccine and cannot work half or a full day,” says Barrantes.

Fake news

Added to this is the false information and fears of possible side effects from “YouTube videos and WhatsApp groups.”

In Barranca, there are no proper anti-vaccine groups, but there are groups that spread false news and content that are not scientific, but which, due to their language and form, convince many people.

“What is said on social media can convince people and discourage them from vaccinating. They speak of possible fatal risks, and this has been an enemy to reach many people, despite the different strategies,” said Barrantes.

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These messages lead people to fear and mistrust healthcare professionals.

Matter of faith

From pulpits and cults there are also messages to discourage people from getting immunized. These are seen in different areas, but in Esparza, with a population less marginalized by social situation, faith does carry more weight. This is one of the reasons why 30% of the vaccinable population remains without a single dose.

“In evangelical churches, there are many leaders who tell people not to get vaccinated,” said Ramírez. “There are many people who have helped and promoted vaccination in cults, but others do the opposite,” she added.

Barrantes assures: “In Esparza, the part of the churches has been the most difficult. They are very religious people, very attached to the faith. A current entered that has caused people to flee to the vaccine”.

One of the vaccinators’ strategies is to meet with pastors and priests to raise awareness of the importance of vaccination. This has managed to convince the religious leaders of their faithful.

“There are people with whom it is possible to reason, with others, unfortunately, we have not been able to. Scary social media message wins,” stressed the nursing supervisor.

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"Rico" is the crazy mind behind the Q media websites, a series of online magazines where everything is Q! In these times of new normal, stay at home. Stay safe. Stay healthy.

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