Red Cross chief calls for fight against ‘fake news’ about COVID-19 vaccine

The head of the world’s largest humanitarian network is urging governments and institutions to combat “fake news” about COVID-19 vaccines, which has become “a second pandemic,” and start building trust in communities around the world about the critical importance of vaccinating people.

Francesco Rocca, president of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said in a virtual briefing to the UN Correspondents Association on Monday that “to beat this pandemic, we also have to defeat the parallel pandemic of distrust.”

He said there is “a growing hesitancy about vaccines in general, and about a COVID vaccine in particular” around the world, pointing to a recent Johns Hopkins University study in 67 countries that found vaccine acceptance declined significantly in most countries from July to October this year.

In a quarter of countries, Rocca said, the study found that the acceptance rate for a vaccine against the coronavirus was near or below 50 per cent, with Japan dropping from 70 per cent to 50 per cent acceptance, and France dropping from 51 per cent to 38 per cent acceptance.

He stressed that the lack of trust “is by no means a Western phenomenon,” citing the federation’s research in recent months in eight African countries — Congo, Cameroon, Gabon, Zimbabwe, Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Lesotho and Kenya — which showed a steady decline in the perceptions of the risk of COVID-19 infection.

A growing number of people indicated the virus doesn’t affect young people or Africans, that the disease doesn’t exist now but did exist and the pandemic has ended, he said. “In several African countries, we have seen a common skepticism towards vaccines in general, with a common belief being that foreigners use Africa as a medical ‘testing ground.”‘

Surprisingly, Rocca said, some typically vulnerable and marginalized groups aren’t even aware of the pandemic, pointing to a federation survey in Pakistan that found 10 per cent of respondents didn’t know about COVID-19.

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