Myanmar’s military junta has begun a nationwide vaccination campaign as the country struggles under a third COVID-19 wave, but many people are avoiding the jab as they mistrust not only the junta, but also vaccines of Chinese origin, sources in the country told RFA.
The civilian government that was ousted by military coup on Feb. 1 had launched a program to vaccinate everyone over the age of 18, but the army takeover disrupted that plan. In a recent speech, the junta’s leader Sr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing said about 50 percent of the population of 54 million would be vaccinated by the end of the year.
While the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine has been approved by the World Health Organization (WHO) with an efficacy of 79% against symptomatic COVID-19 infection, the junta’s brutal crackdown on people protesting its rule and its stranglehold on media in the country have made citizens hesitant to get vaccinated.
People in Myanmar are also cautious about the vaccine because products manufactured in their giant northern neighbor China have a poor reputation in the country of 54 million people.
“Mainly I don’t want to have the vaccine because it is Chinese. Second, I don’t trust it since these vaccines are administered by the military council,” Kyaw Myo Lwin, a resident of Myanmar’s largest city Yangon, told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
“If the elected civilian government had administered these vaccines, I would definitely get it, but I won’t under the military council. I reject it. I believe this vaccine will not make any difference for us,” he said.
Kyaw Myo Lwin, who said his family and friends also mistrust the military’s vaccine scheme, will continue to wear facemasks, avoid crowded places, wash his hands frequently and stay indoors to protect himself, he added.
A doctor who requested that RFA not reveal his name or location for security reasons said that mistrust of the military runs deep among most people.
“Judging from their actions, there is nothing trustworthy about them. They have, after all, terrorized the population by arresting, torturing and persecuting them. How can the people trust them?” the doctor said.
“The vaccines they are providing come from China and Russia, countries the junta is aligned with politically. These are all reasons that damage public trust in them,” the physician said.
“People already have their opinions of Chinese products as being of a lower quality,” he said, but advised people to get the Chinese vaccine if there are no other choices available.
Vaccination is the only long-term solution for containing COVID-19, Than Naing Soe, a spokesperson for the junta’s Health and Sports Ministry, told RFA.
“Realistically speaking, it will be hard to maintain measures like wearing face masks, washing hands or keeping distance. The best solution is to vaccinate, so we will get it done,” he said.
The vaccines the junta will provide are not only Chinese, which are among 11 distributed by the World Health Organization’s COVAX program, Than Naing Soe said. Vaccines made in Russia and India will also be administered, he said.
A Yangon doctor who requested anonymity to speak freely told RFA that any of the vaccine options were better than nothing.
“Prevention is better than cure. No matter which vaccine, whether it is 10, 20 or 50 percent effective, it would benefit the host and is a better choice than not having any protection at all,” the Yangon doctor said.
“Many people got hit very hard in this third wave of the pandemic. This is because people were not vaccinated during the second wave. So, vaccination is good for you,” said the Yangon doctor.
The ousted democratically elected government prior to the Feb. 1 coup had announced a program to vaccinate all 38.35 million people older than 18 in Myanmar, using a combination of 30 million purchased and 27 million donated vaccine doses.
Immunization began Jan. 27 with the Indian made AstraZeneca Covishield vaccine and 2.75 million people were fully vaccinated when the program was suspended following the coup.
Junta leader Min Aung Hlaing told Russia’s RIA news agency that the program had been suspended due to supply problems in India, but he said Myanmar was trying to purchase two million doses from Russa and was in negotiations to buy seven million more from China.
According to WHO statistics, Myanmar has confirmed nearly 320,000 COVID-19 cases and close to 11,000 deaths.
Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Eugene Whong.
This content originally appeared on Radio Free Asia and was authored by Radio Free Asia.