Vaccine Hesitancy: A Harsh Reality

Updated: Jan 22



Novak Djokovic, the World No.1 and the man with 20 Grand Slam wins under his belt has been all over the news in the last few days for reasons that have been debated across the world.

 

What happened?

Here is a snippet on how the events turned out for Novak Djokovic who had failed two appeals on the removal of cancellation over his visa. It all started when the Victoria State Government and Tennis Australia let the player travel to Australia without a vaccine based on a medical exemption. Criticisms across the world and especially in Australia arose as the vaccine mandate for the Australian Open should not be a loophole for the privileged players.


He was detained for 8 hours on arrival and spent 4 nights at the immigration hotel. Soon, he was exempted for not having enough time to choose a lawyer. He was released and was spotted practicing for the Australian Open.


News came up from December when the athlete was spotted at Belgrade in a Basketball match. He was seen to be hugging various players and congratulating them when tested positive. However, even after a positive test result the player is said to have attended a stamp launch event and an event to honour young players. The pictures from these events were all over the Serbian media.


There were accusations that the player had not been in quarantine for 14 days before travelling to Australia as he was seen in Spain and Serbia, to which he admitted that it was a human error and a mistake was made on his travel declaration.


The decision regarding his deportation came on Sunday, a day before his scheduled match, which stated that the appeal had been dismissed and Djokovic was deported from Australia.

 

What does this incident have to do with anti-vaccine sentiments?

Vaccine hesitancy merely refers to a delay in the acceptance or the refusal of vaccines despite the availability of vaccine services. Such sentiments can arise due to religious, ideological reasons and misinformation. In the era of a public health crisis, the US recognizes vaccine hesitancy as one of the major problems that the public health sector is facing. Social Media has been playing an important role in such sentiments and the incident has only made it worse.


As tempting as it seems to assume that anyone refusing the vaccine shares the same belief, there are a lot of factors that have a role in the same. Majority of the vaccine hesitant population do not have any political agenda and are merely just affected by an anti-scientific mentality. It would also be wrong to jump to the conclusion that this just marks the end of the story. Vaccine hesitancy can arise due to a lack of confidence either in the vaccine or the institutions supplying them or the institutions promising them. Hesitancy is a common phenomenon for those who do not consider the disease as a serious threat or risk. It is not surprising to see most people believe that the whole pandemic has been a con trick and that the virus causes no harm. There are another group of anti vaxxers who engage themselves in extreme research analyzing the cost and benefits and see the vaccines as a no good commodity. The other two factors that usually affect one’s beliefs are the ease of access to the vaccine and the willingness to protect others. Even though these are some of the basic factors behind the vaccine hesitant behavior, the decision to take a vaccine also involves a wide range of cognitive biases.


Novak Djokovic is the national star of Serbia. Serbia, even before the incident, has been a country with less than half of the population fully vaccinated. The sentiments of the people are extremely influenced by their favorite sports icon. Various social media groups have been created regarding anti-vaccine sentiments amongst the people and Djokovic has emerged a hero among them. As much as it looks like the tennis star has lost his fans, he has definitely gained a set of new fans for being vocal about free will and the vaccine and for putting the opinion of thousands regarding the doubt in the achievement of the sciences.


The solution for the same is easier said than done. Awareness and confidence among institutions is the stepping stone and from there it’s a long way to go. Vaccine mandates on one hand and free will on the other have been an emerging debate. In an era of social media and free voices, vaccine mandates will only worsen the attitude towards the vaccine. “You can’t force them to want but one day they shall realize what they lost” as the quote goes, a delay in the decision for the vaccine sounds equally fatal.


To conclude, as easy as the whole debate sounds, there are always two sides to a coin, only when you flip it do you know what are the consequences that come along with it.


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