‘Vaccines are satanic’: Bolivia battles fake news in vaccination campaign

Bolivian health worker receives dose of Russian vaccine Sputnik V (Gam-COVID-Vac) against coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at del Norte hospital in El Alto, on the outskirts of La Paz, Bolivia , January 30, 2021. REUTERS / David Mercado / File photo

Bolivia’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign is hit by anti-vaccine misinformation that stirs skepticism and leaves vaccination centers half-empty, a challenge for the government facing a wave of new infections.

Health workers and officials have raised concerns about the low turnout at some vaccination sites, saying injections will be wasted. They blame bogus information campaigns that included leaflets saying vaccines contain “satanic” material.

“We read brochures in El Alto from anti-vaccine groups about the presence of a substance in Lucifer’s vaccines and because of that the vaccines were satanic,” said Maria Rene Castro, deputy minister of epidemiology.

“Global disinformation has arrived in our country and it has had an impact on people who avoid getting vaccinated.”

Bolivia, like much of South America, is hit by a deadly new wave of coronavirus infections, with recent daily cases at 98% of the country’s peak set in February. To date, a total of 340,000 people have been infected and 14,000 have died. (Case and death graph)

The region has also struggled to cope with a vaccine shortage, although Bolivia has started to see more doses pour in after deals for Russia’s Sputnik V, China’s Sinopharm (1099.HK) and with injections from the Indian Serum Institute for AstraZeneca (AZN.L). Read more

However, many vaccination centers in major cities continued to face low participation rates, with empty sites and queues.

“I don’t want to be vaccinated, I don’t want to die and I don’t want to get sick,” said Rogelio Mayta, a resident of El Alto.

Health worker Patricia Almanza said that the organization around the vaccination campaign had been poor, which had not helped to encourage people to come for the vaccination.

“It is criminal that during this time of pandemic we have to throw away the vaccines,” she said.

“There are places where vaccines are thrown away, where health workers will look for people to be vaccinated so that something so precious is not thrown away.”

Bolivia has given at least one chance to only 7% of its population, far behind the 32% of the European Union and 48% of the United States. (Graph on vaccinations)

The wealthiest Latin Americans traveled abroad, especially to the United States, to get vaccinated, which created a wedge between the rich and the poor. Skepticism about vaccines may widen this even further. Read more

“For me, the COVID-19 vaccine is not credible,” Ismael Blanco said in the dusty narrow streets of the city in the highlands. “I don’t trust the vaccine.”

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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