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Wednesday, January 19, 2022

#Unvaccinated_Rights: social media users in Qatar debate

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In 2019, the World Health Organisation (WHO) named vaccine hesitancy as one of the world’s top global health threats.

An online debate over Covid-19 vaccines has emerged yet again on Twitter among residents in Qatar—this time under the hashtag #Unvaccinated_Peoples_Rights which soared to the top of trending topics in the country.

The hashtag came as people protested the introduction of new restrictions aimed at curbing the latest wave of the coronavirus, especially with the presence of the fast-spreading omicron variant.

Under the new health guidelines, those who received their booster shots, got their second doses less than 9 months ago, or those who recovered from the virus within the past 12 months can enjoy greater advantages such as entering shopping malls.

Read also: Choice or obligation? How vaccine misinformation sparked a Twitter debate

Despite the fact that the Ministry of Public Health [MoPH] is urging rather than forcing the population to get their booster shots, part of those involved in the latest online debate are protesting the Qatari authorities’ “decision to impose” vaccines on the public.

“I express my official objection at the MoPH and crisis management committee for imposing any kind of vaccination or the use of devious methods against any citizen and I reject the insistence to vaccinate children or prevent them from entering any public place accompanied by their parents. Do not force us to file international cases.”

One user said: “I express my official objection to the MoPH and crisis management committee for imposing any kind of vaccination or the use of devious methods against any citizen and I reject the insistence to vaccinate children or prevent them from entering any public place accompanied by their parents. Do not force us to file international cases.”

“We either stand together today and reject this farce or risk crying tomorrow when we wont be able to access our money or properties because of not taking the vaccine. And don’t say that’s impossible, because we all thought it was impossible to reach this current state we’re in.

Another person said: “We either stand together today and reject this farce or risk crying tomorrow when we wont be able to access our money or properties because of not taking the vaccine. And don’t say that’s impossible, because we all thought it was impossible to reach this current state we’re in.”

Much of the protest is also focused on the upcoming updates in the local health monitoring track and trace app, Ehteraz.

Starting 1 February, those who received their second dose more than nine months ago will no longer be considered fully vaccinated and will lose their Gold Frame (immunised) status on Ehteraz.

Those who receive the booster shot will keep their Gold Frame status for a further nine months.

“It’s not permissible to deny people from fully enjoying their constitutional and human rights as long as their Ehteraz is green. This is no longer justifiable after the failure of vaccines in spreading the omicron variant and I am one of them [who got infected]. “We have to adapt with the coronavirus and not place ourselves in a large prison that harms our economy and our society.”
In another tweet, prominent Qatari journalist Abdullah Al Athbah said: “It’s not permissible to deny people from fully enjoying their constitutional and human rights as long as their Ehteraz [health monitoring app] is green.”

The prominent Qatari figure went on to say that not getting vaccinated is no longer a valid reason given “its failure to stop the spread of the omicron variant”.

“We have to adapt with the coronavirus and not place ourselves in a large prison that harms our economy and our society,” added Al Athbah.

“If the vaccine was effective, we wouldn’t have seen this alarming number of cases. Thank God, we are blessed with health, is this how we’re punished? My Ehteraz is green and I get a weekly test what else are we required to do? I didn’t take a single shot until this day and I will not get vaccinated by force nor voluntarily.”

Also questioning the vaccines’ effectiveness, a Twitter user said: “If the vaccine was effective, we wouldn’t have seen this alarming number of cases. Thank God, we are blessed with health, is this how we’re punished? My Ehteraz is green and I get a weekly test what else are we required to do? I didn’t take a single shot until this day and I will not get vaccinated by force nor voluntarily.”

Scientific evidence vs. vaccine hesitancy

A similar online discussion took place in May last year under the hashtag #YourVaccineYourChoice, where social media users debated whether taking the Covid-19 vaccine in Qatar is an obligation or a personal choice.

Vaccine Hesitancy: Why ‘anti-vaxxers’ refuse to get vaccinated against Covid-19

At the time, people also questioned the effectiveness of the vaccines as some of those who received the required jab still got infected with the coronavirus.

As seen among Twitter users in the latest and previous discussions, many of those who raised concerns over the vaccines do not come from a medical background, leading many of them to make statements that completely contradict the findings of health experts around the world.

Global health studies, including research conducted here in Qatar, found that both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines showed efficacy in preventing severe symptoms of the Covid-19 infection.

More recently, the Chair of the National Health Strategic Group on Covid-19 and Head of Infectious Diseases at Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) Dr. Abdullatif Al Khal debunked myths related to vaccines.

On Tuesday, the leading Qatari health official said that local and global clinical research showed that the booster dose provides around 75% protection against mild to moderate infection.

Dr. Al Khal added that the vaccines provide more than 90% protection against severe infection or death, which has been reflected in the latest number of daily hospital admissions despite the recent surge in cases.

“Almost all patients admitted to intensive care units are either unvaccinated or had their second dose of the vaccine more than six months ago. It is noteworthy that there have been almost no ICU admissions among those who received their booster dose,” said Dr. Al Khal.

The senior health official stressed that the booster shot will significantly increase one’s immunity against all Covid-19 variants including omicron, urging the eligible population to get their booster shots.

Commenting on the side effects of the third dose, Dr. Al Khal said that a limited number out of the 368,000-plus who received the shot reported moderate side effects such as low-grade fever and a mild headache.

Vaccine hesitancy has always been an issue around the world since jabs became a method of protection against disease, but the issue has gained more attention since the pandemic began last year.

In 2019, the World Health Organisation (WHO) named vaccine hesitancy as one of the world’s top global health threats.

A cross-sectional, online survey in Qatar led by researchers at HMC between 15 October and 15 November, 2020, explored the attitudes of adults toward Covid-19 vaccines.

Over 7,800 adults took part in the survey and as many as 20% expressed hesitancy toward taking the vaccine, with another 20% being undecided on whether they would take it or not.

This study also revealed that 53.8% of its participants expressed concerns around the safety of the vaccine, seeing as Covid-19 was a relatively new disease at the time and 47.9% expressed concerns around long-term safety.

In addition, 92.1%  of survey respondents expressed that they believed that natural exposure to the disease provided the safest protection against it.


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