Spreading distrust in vaccines

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Spreading distrust in vaccines

 The Moon Jae-in administration has failed to earn the public’s trust in its Covid-19 vaccine policy. Without even mentioning the delay in a vaccination program starting Feb. 26 — nearly one month later than in other countries — the government has been fueling public distrust in vaccines with its opaque disclosure of information and a shifting of responsibility to medical practitioners. Such a hazy — and irresponsible — approach could trigger a public unwillingness to be inoculated.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) is slated to announce its detailed vaccination plans Tuesday. What attracts our attention most is whether the KDCA will decide to inoculate people aged 65 and older with AstraZeneca vaccines given the controversy over its efficacy for that particular age group. Except for the Pfizer vaccines for 60,000 people scheduled to arrive soon through Covax, only AstraZeneca vaccines will be available after doses for 750,000 people arrive in Korea starting Feb. 24.

In the beginning, our health authorities planned to inoculate senior citizens at day care centers and their workers with AstraZeneca vaccines. After several European countries decided not to use the vaccine for the elderly, citing a lack of critical tests, a heated debate has begun in Korea.

Scrutinizing the safety of vaccines is a must for any government before inoculating its people. But the problem came from the strange strings attached last week by the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety to the use of AstraZeneca vaccines for that age group. Kim Gang-lip, head of the ministry, demanded medical professionals use the vaccine carefully for that age group — effectively shifting all responsibility for safety issues for the vaccine to doctors on the frontline.

Holding medical professionals accountable for potential side effects of the vaccine without presenting clear guidelines constitutes a dereliction of duty on the government’s part.

To achieve the goal of forming herd immunity through vaccinations as soon as possible, governments must take responsibility and come up with unambiguous guidelines to speed up the inoculation process.

Whatever conclusion the Korean government reaches Tuesday, it must ease public distrust by making public all the factors considered in the decision. If government officials try to find a plausible way to avoid their responsibility in case some problems occur, its inoculation program cannot succeed. We hope the government recovers public trust in the vaccines before it is too late.
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