Many skeptical HCMC seniors feel it is not worth risking their lives to get the Covid-19 vaccination, but healthcare experts differ.
Tuan, 70, lives by himself in Thu Duc City. His only child, Hanh, is married and lives in Hanoi.
When he contracted Covid-19 last September, he had not received any vaccine shots.
Hanh reached out to find a Covid-19 recovered patient in HCMC and hired that person to take care of her father. She herself could not travel to HCMC because of the social distancing rules in force. Consequently, she was beside herself with worry about him.
Luckily, her father’s condition did not worsen and he tested negative after 10 days.
In mid-December last year, the Ministry of Health said that anyone who has contracted the disease should get vaccinated as soon as they have fully recovered instead of waiting for six months as had been advised before.
Hanh urged her father to register for the first dose, but he refused to. He believed that he had already developed antibodies against Covid-19 and there was no need to get the vaccine, especially considering that he mainly stayed at home did not meet people frequently.
Tuan also said that from what he has read in the news, the likelihood of getting Covid-19 twice was not high, and therefore, “it was not necessary to get the jab.”
Hanh could “simply cannot let him be like that.”
She flew to HCMC to persuade him directly. “If anything happens to you, how can I live with that,” she cried.
Eventually, her father agreed and she took him to the medical center where he finally got the first shot of the Pfizer vaccine early this year.
Lien, 66, a resident of Binh Thanh District, was also not keen on getting the Covid-19 vaccine.
Her daughter, Thien, said her mother had missed the vaccination schedules a few times on purpose. The first time was in July when the vaccine was prioritized for elderly people with underlying health conditions.
Her mother refused to get it, worried that the vaccine was “too new” and would have harmful side effects. The next time, shortly before the vaccination appointment, Thien’s child, Lien’s grandchild, had to be hospitalized for a day after getting anaphylaxis shock after the first shot.
Lien became even more wary of the vaccine and kept refusing to get vaccinated after reading more news about people getting anaphylaxis shocks and even dying after vaccination.
She argued that she had her plate full already with several health issues, and did not want to take risks, creating another burden for the family. Among other things, she has type 2 diabetes and a stroke has left a major part of her left body hemiplegic.
Thien then canvassed a close friend of her mother, a cancer patient who had received two doses, to convince her.
Lien has been fully vaccinated with two shots since.
No forcing, their choice
Late last year, the HCMC’s Health Department counted around 25,000 people over 65 suffering from underlying diseases who were yet to be vaccinated against Covid-19. Either they or their families had not registered for them to get the jabs.
As of Jan. 13, around 18,500 of these had been vaccinated after the city rolled out a campaign to review people most vulnerable to Covid-19 and encourage them to get vaccinated.
Among the rest, around 5,000 have recently got Covid-19 and are on the waiting list for the jab, while the remaining 1,500 or so have either refused or said that they were being treated for other health issues and could not get the vaccine right now.
An elderly woman with underlying health conditions in Ho Chi Minh City’s District 1 gets a Covid-19 vaccine shot at home, September 2021. Photo by HCMC Center for Disease Control
Ngo Xuan Binh, chairman of Ward 3 in Go Vap District, said of 3,000 seniors with chronic diseases in the ward, only four have refused to get the vaccine. All those who have refused are over 80 and have been bedridden for years. Both they and their families are afraid that the vaccine could worsen their conditions and even kill them.
“Vaccination or not is their choice and the authorities cannot force them to get it,” Binh said.
Do Van Dung, head of the Public Health Department of the HCMC University of Medicine and Pharmacy, said those who refused to get the vaccine can be classified into two groups: The first group, which makes up the majority, are those who lack knowledge about healthcare and do not fully understand how the vaccine works, or have seen others die after vaccination and therefore, they are afraid. The second group belongs to the anti-vaccination movement.
Among those who refuse, the ones that are hardest to convince are seniors who have been suffering from various chronic diseases for a long period of time.
“Even without Covid-19, the risk of fatality is already high and therefore, there is no need to go to the trouble of getting vaccinated, they feel.”
However, HCMC authorities are still keen on asking everyone to get the Covid-19 vaccination as soon as they can. Almost all people over 18 in the city, or around 7.3 million, have been vaccinated with two doses by now.
Moreover, Dung cautioned, the attitude that the vaccination was not necessary for some could cause more harm than good. If these seniors somehow got Covid-19, they would still need to be isolated and treated; and because of their underlying conditions, the disease will hit them harder, causing even more trouble for them, their families and the healthcare system, he said.
Meanwhile, both studies and real-life experiences have shown the positive impacts of the Covid-19 vaccine, he said, adding that the most serious side effect of vaccination – anaphylaxis shock – was “very rare.”
He stressed: “The benefits of vaccines always outweigh the adverse events after vaccination.”
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