【明報專訊】As the world has been yearning for a return to so-called normal life, the rollout of vaccines to inoculate against COVID-19 infection should have been wholeheartedly welcome. Yet scepticism towards and resistance to getting vaccinated is common. It has been reported that the demand for COVID-19 vaccines has generally been lower in Asia, where the relatively low death rates and contained outbreaks in places like Taiwan and Singapore have meant that people tend to feel less urgency and more scepticism towards rapidly-developed vaccines. In Hong Kong, as of mid-March, only about 200,000, or 5.4%, of people in priority groups had come forward for the jab.
Before we attribute the slow rate to some sort of political reasons, we should recognise that vaccine hesitancy is in fact a rather common phenomenon. This is true with the common cold vaccines, which explains why in many places the cold flu has never been satisfactorily controlled in winter times. And when it comes to the vaccination of children, many parents are understandably cautious. It is the same for older people with chronic illness. Confidence is the foremost concern, because different people have varying levels of trust in the health authorities and mainstream medicine. Many observers are too quick to blame social media for allegedly spreading false information about the efficacy of vaccines, when it is not clear whether social media fuels the hesitancy or the opposite. Another factor is complacency. Often times, some of us are not very focused on collecting and evaluating information, or weighing up the pros and cons. After a year-long period of ''epidemic fatigue'', people may not feel very motivated to devote time to seeking and studying detailed information about the various vaccines and their comparative efficacy. Of course, besides causing delay in receiving the jab, complacency may also lead to the casual decision to get one, just to ''get it over with'', so to speak. A third interesting factor is class background, or more generally education level. Vaccine hesitancy has been associated with a higher level of self-reliance among health consumers who are better educated, more informed or ''health literate'', and therefore more leaning toward ''responsible decision-making'' on health issues. People with a higher socioeconomic status, it is said, consider that blindly trusting information from health authorities is passive and risky. To them, the delay in receiving the jab may even feel like self-empowerment.
No matter, vaccine hesitancy is complex and context-specific. It is never about a simple refusal.
John Erni is a university professor at Hong Kong Baptist University. He thinks everyday culture is complex but always enchanting.