Young people in Singapore may be vaccine hesitant, but we’ll get vaccinated to protect others,Mathilda Ng,The Skeptic

Singapore may have been hit hard by COVID-19 in the beginning, but with the government’s measurements to curb the pandemic and the responsible behaviour of many Singaporeans, we have been able to keep the numbers low, with around zero to one community cases daily. The COVID-19 situation in Singapore has been dealt with pretty successfully, and with the ongoing vaccination, we might be able to return to our “normal” lives eventually.

Every so often I would turn on the television and I would hear the advertisement by the government encouraging us to take the COVID-19 vaccination, as they end it off with “And as they say, you are not safe till everyone is safe”. Prime Minister Lee has talked about the need to take the vaccine, telling us:

When you get yourself vaccinated, you are not just protecting yourself. You are also doing your part to protect others, especially your loved ones.

As a young adult, I would probably be among the last few groups of people to get the vaccine, since Singapore ensures that our elderly and frontline workers get access to the vaccine first, before moving on to younger age groups in the population. Yet, despite constant encouragement from the government to take up the vaccine as soon as possible, many of us risk-averse young Singaporeans are still hesitant about the effectiveness of these vaccines, even if it is free for all Singaporeans. Many of us are still a little apprehensive about it. 

When it came to the vaccine roll-out in Singapore, many were uncertain of the effectiveness of the vaccine and whether there would be any side effects after taking it. I wanted to hear what were the concerns that the younger Singaporean demographic have regarding taking the vaccine, to see if it was possible to address some of these concerns.

Joyce Tan (not her real name), 22, told me: “When a vaccine is first released, there’s high hesitation in taking the vaccine because no one has tried it yet so there is a lot of uncertainty about whether the vaccine is safe for all.” Others have shared the same sentiments, too.  

As more people began to be vaccinated, stories began to emerge of people who had seemingly suffered serious side effects after taking the vaccine, with headlines such as “3 people in Singapore in 20s and 30s had severe allergic reaction after Pfizer Covid-19 vaccination jab” and a Facebook post that a girl had complained after being hospitalized after taking the vaccine. All the news made it seem like the vaccines might cause some complications after taking them.

Some of the concerns I heard when interviewing people in writing this article were, “How is the vaccine made?”, “At what phase of the trial is the vaccine at?”, “How many people has the vaccine been tested on?” and “What are some side effects of the vaccine?”

The decision to get vaccinated is an optional one and many of my friends are hesitant in taking the vaccine, with many of them questioning the effectiveness of the vaccine since it was produced so quickly. Joyce explained: “There is a lot of uncertainty about whether the vaccine is safe for all, knowing that the vaccine has side effects with the severity of symptoms differing from person to person”.

One of the articles she alluded to was published by the BBC in January, which talks about how there are currently mRNA vaccines that do not follow traditional methods of production or testing and therefore have “no successful example [of them] being used in the population”, according to Associate Prof Luo Dahai of the Nanyang Technological University.

The same article also talks about CoronaVac only being “suitable for emergency use”, according to Zhu Fengcai, who published a paper in the Lancet about the vaccine. Professor Luo also told the BBC that “vaccines must go through three trials with various criteria and a large sample size consisting of thousands of participants for vaccines to be safe to use at the population level.”

From this, Joyce inferred that “we should have a higher level of concern and caution in the specific vaccine that is being used, because not all vaccines are equal in meeting safety standards.” The BBC article made her hesitant to take the vaccine, even though she understood that it would be important for her to do so to protect those around her. 

Another conversation with my friend Cherlyn Lim, 22, gave me caution when I first took interest in taking the vaccine, as she told me she had friends who had suffered from side effects due to the vaccine, and that her mother’s friend passed away shortly afterwards after taking the vaccine. 

“It might be due to other reasons, but we won’t know the real cause, but having [passed away] after the jab, could be a factor,” she said. It definitely made me slightly disturbed to hear. She added that after hearing such an incident, she “didn’t have the confidence [to take the vaccine]”

The idea that there have been complications due to the vaccine has indeed caused quite a stir and hesitancy in the community, with many having the same idea to “wait and see” before deciding for themselves whether they would like to take the vaccine or not.

An online poll conducted by Milieu Insight in December 2020 showed that a majority of respondents would not get the COVID-19 vaccination as soon as it is available in Singapore. Instead, they indicated they would only want to get vaccinated after 6 to 12 months, as they would like to observe and take a look at whether the vaccine is indeed safe. Many also noted that they would like to see if the vaccine is also effective against the pandemic before deciding for themselves whether to take the vaccine. 

The concept of “wait and see” has been described as a “prisoner’s dilemma” by Dr Bauch – the idea in decision analysis whereby two individuals act only in their own self-interest, leading to an unfavourable outcome. When the number of people being infected by the virus is low, people can feel that they are less at risk and become less cautious, which in turn causes the infection level to increase again.

In order to understand more about where this vaccine hesitancy stems from, I asked whether my friends had any bad experiences with medicines or vaccines in the past. 

Joyce recalled how when she was younger, she observed doctors gave her antibiotics to take when she had a fever or cough, both common illnesses.

“However, I understand that antibiotics have the potential of causing adverse side effects without being able to cure the sickness itself due to it being for a different strain of illness”, she told me. “This to me felt like I was being given medication that could make my condition worse based on medication given seemingly out of trial and error. 

“So, the uncertainty of vaccines does remind me of that and may or may not have influenced my current cautious behaviour around vaccines and stronger medication.”

This uncertainty might have made her hesitant in taking the vaccine considering that it is relatively new and in its early stages of being rolled out to the public.

Addressing the concerns

After talking to young people about their concerns on the vaccines, and I turned to the internet to find out if it was possible to address some of the concerns I’d heard.

“How is the vaccine made?”  –  There are different vaccines and various methods of production. Traditional vaccines are made using a weakened or inactivated virus. While the newly developed Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, known as mRNA, are not made using any cells. Instead, they help our immune system generate antibodies that prevents us from getting infected by COVID-19. This is done through the training of our cells to produce copies of the “spike protein” in our body.

“At what phase of the trial is the vaccine at?” – According to the Coronavirus Vaccine Tracker, the vaccines that have been approved by Singapore such as Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna are at Phase 3 of the vaccine trial, where the trials are extensive enough to reveal proof of relatively rare side effects.

“How many people has the vaccine been tested on?” – The sample size for the different vaccines varies, for Moderna, it is 27,817 participants in the U.S. and for Pfizer, it is 36,523 participants in Argentina, Brazil, Germany, South Africa, Turkey and the U.S.

“What are some side effects of the vaccine?” – It is common to have some side effects after taking the vaccine and the majority of the effects are mild or moderate which typically improves over the next few days. Some of the more common effects are: Pain, redness, swelling at the injection site, fever, chills, headache, muscle pain, joint pain, tiredness and lymph node swelling at neck or arms.

In some very rare cases, the vaccine may cause a severe allergic reaction. These include signs of: difficulty breathing, swelling of your face, throat, eyes or lips, a fast heartbeat, dizziness and weakness, a bad rash all over your body.

“How effective is the vaccine?” – It is important to note that efficacy is not the same as effectiveness and there is a difference between the two. This is a common misconception. When they state that the efficacy of the vaccine is 95%, it does not indicate that 5% of the people who get the vaccine will get the COVID-19.

The efficacy that is often stated in the vaccine’s information is actually “a measurement of how much a vaccine lowers the risk of an outcome”. This means that people who are vaccinated are at a lower risk of contracting the virus.

“How long will vaccine immunity last?” – Concerning the validity of the vaccine, it is currently being monitored and it is said that the vaccines are effective for a minimum of two months with no indications of decreasing protection.

As the vaccine is being deployed and many more are being vaccinated, we will be able to better assess the vaccines and understand how effective it is.

Protecting our loves ones

Having spoken to many vaccine hesitant young Singaporeans, I came to the conclusion that we may all be a little hesitant in taking the vaccines, but at the end of the day if it’s to protect our loved ones and for the greater good of society, we may be willing to do so even if there is some very small risk involved.

When asked about when they think that it would be safe enough for them to take the vaccine, Joyce told me: “Taking into account that it’s the same vaccine issued to the elderly, the generations above me, and my peers, I would deem it safe enough if there is little to no news of cases of side effects leading to further complications. If there are such cases, they must be ruled as anomalies.” 

Cherlyn mentioned that “I would give it a few months or maybe a year.” 

Joyce also added that despite this hesitancy, she would still consider taking the vaccine. “I would highly consider taking the vaccine for my family’s sake and I personally see it as my responsibility to keep my own health in check and take the necessary precautions despite my own reservations. I live with elderly relatives and in a larger family, so I see this as all the more urgent to consider seriously.”

All of us has a part to play in keeping the virus at bay so that we can ensure the safety of our loved ones and family. With a little more research, we can all be a little less hesitant in taking the vaccine.

For COVID-19 vaccines to be effective, there is a need to build trust and address vaccine concerns in a clear and comprehensive manner that will not be misunderstood. On our end, we can do our part by checking our sources before sharing any news and stories relating to the vaccine.

The post Young people in Singapore may be vaccine hesitant, but we’ll get vaccinated to protect others appeared first on The Skeptic.

Listening to the concerns of risk-averse young Singaporeans can help ease hesitancy about the Covid-19 vaccine, and increase eventual take-up
The post Young people in Singapore may be vaccine hesitant, but we’ll get vaccinated to protect others appeared first on The Skeptic.