Why being picky about vaccine brands can prove counterproductive

Why being picky about vaccine brands can prove counterproductive

Illustration-A vaccinator prepares a vaccine. Being choosy over vaccine brands can impede the achievement of the national and regional vaccination goals, increase the risk of contracting COVID-19, and hinder the provision of vaccines to prioritized groups, officials and experts have said. (ANTARA/Ruth Intan Sozometa Kanafi/my)

With the entry of several types of COVID-19 vaccines in Indonesia, a select few people have grown increasingly picky about vaccine brands and are postponing vaccination—at least until the arrival of their preferred brand.

The main reason for the arrival of so many vaccine brands in Indonesia has been ensuring vaccine supply and covering as many groups as possible, such as vulnerable people, including people with comorbidities, pregnant women, and kids.

Experts and officials have warned that postponing vaccination due to brand preference can prove counterproductive.

"A vaccine, if we see it from a policy point of view, is now a life necessity. Without a vaccine certificate, you can say that you cannot go anywhere," according to head of the Central Jakarta Health Office, Erizon Safari.

He said that as a medical worker involved in COVID-19 handling, he disapproves of the picky attitude toward vaccines because it stunts progress towards achieving herd immunity, which is one of the government's targets for tackling COVID-19.

People who are picky about vaccines put forward a myriad of excuses ranging from avoiding post immunization adverse events (AEFI) to wanting to get the vaccine with the best efficacy, Safari informed.

The Health Ministry has repeatedly reminded people that no matter the type of vaccine, whether Sinovac, AstraZeneca, Sinopharm, Pfizer, and Moderna, all are proven to help the body fight the virus effectively upon exposure, he added.

The body, which should experience severe symptoms when COVID-19 strikes, will be greatly helped in its recovery, if it has previously received the vaccine, Safari said.

"Which is the best vaccine? There are Sinovac, Sinopharm, AstraZeneca, Pfizer, and Moderna. It turns out that all of these vaccines are still effective in reducing the risk of getting COVID-19 with severe symptoms, including death from COVID-19. So, it is best to not be picky over vaccines, because the best vaccines are the ones currently available," vaccinologist Dr. Dirga Rambe said.

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In addition to serving as a barrier to achieving the government's national and regional vaccination goals, the attitude adopted by picky people also has the potential to harm them because they do not have proper immune protection in case they are exposed to COVID-19, he added.

Worse, people who have not received the vaccine can spread the virus to other family members, and it is exponentially dangerous if the transmission occurs in an environment that is also not protected by the vaccine, he cautioned.

In addition, people who are picky about vaccines also hinder the provision of vaccines to prioritized groups, he said. The prioritized groups in question are health workers, pregnant women, children, people with autoimmune diseases, and people with severe comorbidities, he added.

If the products that should be given to prioritized groups are depleted, the vaccine cannot be delivered optimally, and the main objective cannot be met, which is to provide adequate protection to all people fairly, Rambe said.

Currently, the Moderna vaccine is being used as a booster for medical personnel, while the Pfizer vaccine is being recommended for members of the general public, such as pregnant women, children, and people with severe comorbidities, he added.

"We have a special protocol in administering vaccines; of course, we also have to pay attention to those who are in the prioritized groups. Those with medical problems such as severe comorbidities or autoimmune (diseases) to pregnant women and children, who are currently able to receive vaccines," Safari said.

If specific vaccines are given to picky people to accommodate their choice, of course, the priority recipients the vaccines were meant for will have to wait again for the arrival of the next batch of vaccines, he explained.

There is also a group that is picky about vaccines due to their concern or fear of getting AEFI, he said. This kind of thought is misguided because AEFI can actually be taken care of, and there are fewer people experiencing AEFI, he added.

For example, many people avoided receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine when the vaccine was first distributed in Indonesia, because of the many conversations on social media that said AEFI from the vaccine brand was quite severe, Safari said.

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Yet as time passed, many people took the AstraZeneca vaccine and got good benefits and shared their firsthand experience, he added. It turns out that when a lot of people contracted COVID-19, people began hunting for the England-made vaccine instead, he informed.

Therefore, if the concern over AEFI is the basis for the picky behavior over vaccines, then that reason does not seem so valid, given that the benefits outweigh the AEFI risk, he added.

"Just look at it from a health perspective. Right now, (just ignore) whatever the type of vaccine is, especially for young adults who are healthy without medical problems. Just (go ahead and take that vaccine, then) enjoy the benefits. After all, (if we are talking about) AEFI symptoms, there are more who received the benefits than those who got AEFI symptoms," Safari remarked.

In the last two months, the government has introduced two new types of COVID-19 vaccines to Indonesia, namely the Moderna vaccine in July 2021 and the Pfizer vaccine in August 2021.

The arrival of the two vaccines triggered a host of conversations among the public because of their higher efficacy levels compared to the previous three vaccines, namely Sinovac, AstraZeneca, and Sinopharm, Safari noted.

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Many people who were yet to receive the COVID-19 vaccine argued on social media that they preferred to get US-made vaccines because they felt that they offered more benefits, he added.

Such kind of thinking and the decision to postpone COVID-19 vaccination is harmful because that involves people prolonging the time during which they have no immunity against the deadly virus, Safari said.

The bottomline is: being picky about vaccines is not the right thing to do, particularly in the midst of a situation that has demanded a thorough and complete revival in many sectors, Safari said.

Vaccines that are currently available and which have been made easily accessible are vaccines that have been tested, and of course, offer benefits for all who take them, he added.

Therefore, do not adopt preferential treatment of brands when it comes to vaccines, Safari said. Get vaccinated immediately so that herd immunity can be formed even quicker, and the COVID-19 pandemic can be controlled optimally, he added.

After receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, of course, it will not be right to throw away caution, he said. Health protocols must always be practiced, every time activities are performed both inside and outside homes, so that efforts for protecting all people are maximized, he remarked. 

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