QCOSTARICA – Ciudad Quesada and other districts of San Carlos had a particularity in recent weeks. In homes, shops, hotels and other businesses have raised a white flags with a slogan that prays “for life.”
Decals with the same motif are also seen on vehicles and stores. This is their way of saying that at least 80% of the people who live and work there are vaccinated against covid-19.
It is the white flag for life initiative, a joint effort of the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social (CCSS), the Ministry of Health and the Municipality of San Carlos, with also the participation of private businesses and community activists.
“It is the way of saying that we are proud to be vaccinated, and that we have a commitment to take care of ourselves and others,” said Esmeralda Pacheco, social worker of the Huetar Norte region of the CCSS and one of the managers of the initiative.
According to Walter Hernández, spokesman for the Municipality of San Carlos, this idea was born when thinking about the Ecological Blue Flag program: “If many establishments are proud of their commitment to the environment, many would also be proud of their commitment to vaccination and health”.
Thus, they also counteract the campaign of the anti-vaccine groups and seek to motivate those who have not been vaccinated to clarify their doubts and not delay their inoculation.
“In my barrio (neighborhood) there are 20 houses, get me 20 flags,” Isabelita Quesada, a school friend of Pacheco responded to the call.
Quesada added she only gives the flag to those have been vaccinated for real. The resident assures that some of her neighbors even showed her their vaccination card as proof that they were not lying.
Like many, Quesada confesses that at the beginning she was fearful and with doubts of the vaccine, but these were clarified when she informed herself.
Quesada lost her business to the pandemic. After 30 years of operation, she had to close and fire employees who had been with her for more than 15 years, but she assures that she is grateful for not having lost any family members and having them all healthy.
Silencing the anti-vaccines
The anti-vaccine groups are a minority, however, Hernández is emphatic that they make a lot of noise and that noise is the majority in the north.
“I had the experience of calling people in the square to get vaccinated and the anti-vaccines were on the front side shouting that I was killing people. I was not going to start arguing with them,” he said.
The arrival of the health flag heated the spirits of some of these groups, whose accusations ranging from discriminating to comparing them to Nazism.
“It (the program) does not discriminate against those who do not want to be vaccinated. Flags and stickers to say ‘here we are vaccinated’. Nobody is required to put up the flag or sticker. And no one has been denied services for not being vaccinated,” Hernández stressed.
The interviewees are of the opinion that the majority of those not vaccinated are not anti-vaccines, rather they are people with doubts and fears who, when listening to the messages of the anti-vaccines, resist, and this should be counteracted with good information.
This is also compounded by the fact that, despite the effectiveness of the AstraZeneca vaccine, unfounded rumors cause some people to reject it.
“I, who lived the experience of being in vaccination points, people said, ‘If it’s not Pfizer, I won’t get vaccinated,’ when it is proven that AstraZeneca is a very good vaccine. Those who now decide to get vaccinated are afraid of AstraZeneca,” said Hernández.
For this reason, the CCSS and the Ministry of Health carry out information campaigns to explain to people the benefits of this vaccine and thus have more people protected.
Meanwhile, the first thousand flags that were sent to be made have already been distributed. Groups are coming together to do their own thing. For example, the pineapple chamber had them made for its members and will deliver to members who show that they have 80% of their workers already inoculated.
Pacheco says that other communities already want to emulate them.
“We’ve had calls from people in San José, Alajuela, Pérez Zeledón, from the free zones and they tell us they want to participate. We told them that ours is an initiative only for San Carlos, but we motivate them to also do it in their community and to guide them in whatever they need”, Pacheco concluded.