Even though nations across the globe are looking forward to the early availability of an effective vaccine to fight COVID-19, experts believe a large percentage of the world’s population is gripped by vaccine hesitancy.

Vaccine hesitancy, which is defined as reluctance or refusal to vaccinate despite availability of vaccines, is feared to grip up to 40 to 50% of the world’s population, according to Ronald T. Peirvincenzi, CEO, United States Pharmacopeia.

Delivering the keynote address at a virtual conference on ‘COVID-19 Vaccine – A Global Perspective’ organised by JSS Research Foundation on Saturday, Dr. Peirincenzi feared that trust issues were likely to affect the vaccination process against COVID-19. “It worries many of us you look forward to vaccine distribution when upto 40 to 50% of the world population is hesitant or even saying they will avoid taking the vaccine,” he said. He said it was ‘deeply unfortunate’ that there were trust issues all around the world including in healthcare.

The challenges of equitable distribution of quality vaccine across the world are expected to further erode trust at a time when multiple vaccines will be available, but will not be equal in their effectiveness, he said.

Echoing Dr. Peirvincenzi’s fears was Executive President of Pune-based Serum Institute of India (SII) Suresh Jadhav, who said the introduction of a vaccine against Meningitis A faced a severe vaccine hesitancy problem in sub-Saharan Africa. Though a vaccine was needed and available, there was severe hesitancy. A local religious group had to be tackled and taken onboard before immunization could be taken up. A lot of people had seen the devastation caused by Meningitis A and the whole sub-Saharan belt has now been completely immunised after the local religious group propagated in favour of using the vaccine. “I hope we can emulate such examples to tackle the situation globally,” he said.

Misleading information

Dr. Jadhav also cautioned against misleading information in print and digital media. Such misleading information can lead to a negative influence on the common man.

He said people need to the particularly wary about rumours presented as facts by the ‘WhatsApp University’. Unfortunately, a lot of people tend to believe such rumours more than technical knowledge shared authentic sources.

Dr. Jadhav also emphasised on the need for the authorities to ensure that the right people get the right vaccine at the right time while referring to the initial efforts made by the government to prioritise vaccine distribution among different sections.

“Initial high demand of vaccine might develop risk of theft and corruption,” he said, before pointing to the possibility of the emergence of ‘counterfeit vaccines’.

The virtual conference, which aimed to provide a global update on the ongoing efforts towards developing COVID-19 vaccine, was also addressed among others by Executive Vic- President and Chief Science Officer of United States Pharmacopeia Jaap Venema; Chairman and Managing Director of Bharat Biotech International Limited Krishna Ella; Joint Drugs Controller, Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation, India, S. Eswara Reddy; Pro Chancellor of JSS Academy of Higher Education and Research B. Suresh; and Vice Chancellor of JSS Academy of Higher Education and Research Surinder Singh.

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