Semantron 23 Summer 2023

Vaccine hesitancy amongst the elderly in Hong Kong

Jasper Tsui


1796 is the year that marked the beginning of vaccine development. Over the course of around 2 centuries, numerous vaccines were developed against, and successfully controlled, various infectious diseases. Vaccines have become inseparable from global health measures. For the first time in human history, vaccines were deployed to fight a global pandemic, COVID-19. A vaccine prompts a second immune response within our body so that immunity is developed for a specific disease, such as SAR- CoV-2 or COVID-19 virus. It protects the individual by reducing the risks of infection, the risk of developing severe symptoms, and the risk of death. In addition, vaccination of people can also protect the unvaccinated. By vaccinating the majority of the population, herd immunity is acquired and those who are even vaccinated will be protected from the disease. According to the World Health Organiz ation (WHO), ‘herd immunity’ also known as ‘ population immunity ’ , is the indirect protection from an infectious disease that happens when a population is immune either through vaccination or immunity developed through the previous infection (World Health Organization, 2020). For measles, if 95% of the population are vaccinated, the rest 5% will be protected. In the case of COVID-19, the required percentage of people to be vaccinated is unknown but the WHO continues to aim to safely achieve herd immunity against COVID-19 (World Health Organization, 2020). Around the world, 2-3 million deaths are prevented by vaccines annually (World Health Organization, n.d.). Vaccination of a large population against newly mutated influenza virus has become our annual routine. The outbreak of the Ebola virus, a deadly and highly infectious disease, was controlled by ring vaccination. Even smallpox, which killed around 300 million people in the 20 th century, was completely eradicated (Callum Brodie, 2017). The fact that vaccines have saved countless lives once again proved that vaccines are imperative to global health and vaccination is crucial to the fight against COVID-19. Despite the importance and effectiveness of vaccination, vaccine hesitancy still occurs. Defined by the World Health Organization, vaccine hesitancy refers to delay in acceptance or refusal of safe vaccines despite the availability of vaccination services (World Health Organization, 2015). The consequence is very serious if not properly addressed. According to the WHO, 1 in 5 children still do not receive routine life-saving immunizations, and an estimated 1.5 million children still die each year of diseases that could be prevented by vaccines that already exist (World Health Organization, n.d.). Vaccine hesitancy may lead to a resurgence of some diseases which have already been controlled by vaccines. For example, a record high of death due to measles recorded in 2018 as a result of a 30% rise in measles cases globally possibly due to vaccine hesitancy (World Health Organization, n.d.). However, in spite of the need for attention, immunization programs have not yet achieved a sustained high rate of vaccine uptake (World Health Organization, 2015). As a result, the WHO has announced vaccine hesitancy as one of the ten most urgent threats to global in 2019 (World Health Organization, n.d.).


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