Letter to the editor: COVID vaccines needs promotion

The killing of Osama Bin Laden and family members included one setback — the credibility of vaccinators.
As one of the thousands who served in the World Health Organization’s smallpox eradication campaign decades ago, I experienced over and over the resistance, especially of rural women, to vaccination. So, my heart sank when I considered how this ruse would limit subsequent vaccination campaigns, including those against polio.
While my short-lived work in public health was long ago, today’s resistance to a COVID-19 vaccination is strikingly familiar. Mistrust of the national government was a hurdle in Afghanistan also. To counter this, male members of our teams were Afghan Ministry of Public Health workers, who dressed in Western garb and took the lead in persuading the village leader to let us vaccinate.
Somewhat like social media today, teahouse talk then reinforced resistance to what was a traditional practice, a live smallpox virus inserted into an incision on the hand. We female Peace Corps vaccinators, by virtue of being Westerners, gave some credence to our freeze-dried vaccine. Because of a taboo, the male vaccinators often could not vaccinate females over ten years old. We took on that role. With the few minutes we had to spend in each compound, we didn’t attempt bringing the women up to speed on the role of prevention. Rather it was the novelty of our arrival at their door unannounced speaking their language that gained us access. We answered questions about where our mothers were, if our fathers knew what we were doing and why we were not married, as we got close enough to roll up their sleeves and vaccinate.
As more and more of us have been touched directly by COVID, we intend to be vaccinated. Also, some of us read the data, accept the science. The “limited edition” of the vaccine appeals to others. What would it take to persuade the rest? Employers could grant employees a vaccine-recovery day or two off with pay. Influencers of the 30- to 49-year-olds could reach out to them. Our government could act to rectify the inequities of health care. This, too, is a worldwide campaign. Since we tend to follow what others around us are doing, we can spread the message, as we did here with masks by wearing them. These stickers, like the I VOTED ones, in all the world’s languages would say I got the VACCINE.
Jill Vickers

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