Antivaxxers

Demand for COVID-19 vaccines dominates anti-vaxxers in Latin America.

Conspiracy theories and unfounded health beliefs spread mostly through social media are the main drivers of anti-vaxxer groups that are threatening the rollout of vaccination at global level. Anti-vaxxers are more marginal in Latin America in a region where demand for vaccines far outstrips any reluctance. 

As of July 2021, the vaccination acceptance rate oscillated between 70.5% in Uruguay and 91.9% in Paraguay. The larger countries in the region registered high acceptance rates such as Argentina, 79.3%, Mexico, 84.1%; and Brazil, 89%. Furthermore, the main objection among anti-vaxxers in Latin America is not to vaccines in general but more specifically to potential side-effects, making it easier to address these concerns over time. 

A physician in Buenos Aires outlined the local context, “There isn’t really an organised anti-vaccine movement in Argentina, yes there are some protests but they’re quite small. There is a culture for vaccination in Argentina, even before the pandemic we have had quite high levels of vaccination. The people who have been refusing vaccines have done so based on their source, there is a view that the Russian and Chinese vaccines have not been tested as thoroughly as Pfizer and AstraZeneca. Some credit must be given to the Pan American Health Organisation (“PAHO”), it has done good work promoting vaccines for a very long time and this has created a cultural acceptance.”

“Some credit must be given to the Pan American Health Organisation, it has done good work promoting vaccines for a very long time and this has created a cultural acceptance.”

Physician and Professor of Immunology, Argentina

A similar situation is observed in Mexico, confirmed a public health expert and former official in the Ministry of Health, “There are some small anti-vaxxer groups in Mexico, but in reality the movement is not well articulated. Despite this, there has been a lot of misinformation spread via WhatsApp and some celebrities have had an influence, for example Patricia Navidad, but then she got sick and changed her message.”

By global standards, Mexico has maintained a very relaxed attitude to the pandemic, refusing to shut down the economy, refusing to enforce mask-wearing and they are also refusing to force people to get vaccinated. The public health official continued, “Public acceptance of vaccines in general is high in Mexico and, strangely, the government’s liberal approach to the pandemic has worried people enough that they went out and got the vaccine as soon as they could. The problem in Mexico has been vaccine availability, not acceptance.”

“There are some small anti-vaxxer groups in Mexico, but in reality the movement is not well articulated. […] The problem in Mexico has been vaccine availability, not acceptance.”

Public health expert, former Ministry of Health official , Mexico

Despite the generally positive attitude, there have been some local anti-vaxxer groups that have caused trouble in recent months. In October, anti-vaccine activists in rural Guatemala attacked nurses trying to administer COVID-19 jabs, vandalised cars and blocked access to villages. Colombia and Peru saw several protests of small anti-vaxxer groups in front of the Ministry of Health buildings in Bogotá and Lima. 

The risk posed by anti-vaxxers remains a secondary problem in a region where the main challenge has been to accelerate vaccine rollout – three quarters of the population are yet to be fully immunised. Coverage in Caribbean states and Central American countries like Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua is still very slow and the PAHO is still requesting donations to achieve, at least, the full vaccination of 60% of the population. 

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