Brasilia, Brazil-As world leaders rely on public health experts to decide whether and how to vaccinate children against the coronavirus, the Brazilian government is seeking guidance from the online public.
In recent weeks, President Jair Bolsonaro has expressed his opposition to the immunization of children between the ages of 5 and 11, and his government has taken unusual steps to create a platform that can verify To a position widely opposed by experts. Since his government published an online questionnaire on the issue on December 23, supporters of the president have been paying close attention to the messaging app, trying to put pressure on parents to change the results.
A widely shared post on Wednesday on the “Bolsonaro Army” Telegram group with about 37,000 members stated that the vaccine is experimental and suggests that the vaccine may be more harmful than being infected, although some studies have shown the opposite is true. It also includes a link to a government investigation, which others will post along with instructions relayed to friends and family.
David Nemer, an expert on Brazil’s far-right messaging application group, told the Associated Press that the boycott rally was similar to the online behavior observed earlier this month, which made Bolsonaro’s role in Time magazine Ranked among the best in the Readers of the Year. according to. Out of more than 9 million votes, Bolsonaro won about a quarter-almost three times the runner-up of former U.S. President Donald Trump. Instead, the editor of the magazine chose Elon Musk as the 2021 Person of the Year.
However, this time, the goal of online efforts is far more important than paying tribute to the president. The survey, which ends on January 2nd, will affect the vaccination policy of the most populous country in Latin America, which has 20 million children between the ages of 5 and 11. Health Minister Marcelo Quiroga said they will soon be eligible for the vaccine, but the results of the survey will help determine guidelines, including whether injections can only be given with parental consent and a doctor’s prescription.
Quiroga said on Wednesday: “This is a democratic tool that expands the discussion on this topic, and it will bring more convenience to parents so that they can take their children to vaccinate against COVID-19.”
As far as health experts are concerned, they are shocked. The health secretariats of some Brazilian states have promised to ignore any guidelines of the Ministry of Health on child vaccination if they are based on public consultation. Gonzalo Vecina, the founder and director of Brazil’s health regulatory agency from 1999 to 2003, said that public consultation on vaccines was “unprecedented”.
“Bolsonaro is against vaccines. His employees, the Minister of Health, believe that health is a matter of public opinion. This is a false and absurd method,” Vecina told the Associated Press. “If only the deniers expressed their opinions in the public consultation, would the government say that there is no need to use the vaccine?”
The high-level Brazilian denials are a bit familiar. Even when the COVID-19 outbreak pushed the country’s death toll to the second highest in the world, Bolsonaro spent several months sowing doubts about the vaccine and stubbornly refused to receive it. He cited the fact that he contracted the coronavirus in 2020, falsely claimed that he was immunized, and often described vaccination as a matter of personal choice rather than a means of ensuring public interest.
Therefore, when the Brazilian health regulatory agency approved Pfizer’s injections for children on December 16, Bolsonaro was stunned.
“Children are a very serious matter,” he said in a weekly live broadcast on social media that evening. “We don’t know the possible adverse effects in the future. It’s incredible-sorry-what the agency has done. It’s incredible.”
A study released by US health authorities on Thursday confirmed that severe side effects of the Pfizer vaccine on children aged 5 to 11 are rare. The survey results are based on approximately 8 million doses of medicine distributed to young people in this age group.
Bolsonaro added that he will name and expose public servants who have issued approvals, prompting the union representing health agency workers to express concerns about cyber abuse and even personal attacks.
Although his base has received enthusiastic support, Bolsonaro’s anti-vaccination stance has not received as much support in Brazil as it has in the United States—Brazil has a proud history of vaccination campaigns—compared to the United States , More than two-thirds of Brazilians are vaccinated, and this figure is 63% of the United States, according to the Johns Hopkins University vaccination tracker, although American children have been eligible for the vaccine since early November.
In neighbouring Argentina, the government has allowed children 12 years and older to be vaccinated since August, and recently started vaccinating children as young as 3 years old. In the face of subsequent criticism, the country’s Ministry of Health cited the pediatricians recommended by the country’s association. In Chile, after the National Health Regulatory Agency analyzed an immunization study of 100 million children, two-thirds of children between the ages of 3 and 17 had been vaccinated with both vaccines.
Currently, Mexico does not vaccinate children except for children 12 years of age or older with diseases that put them at greater risk. Hugo López-Gatell, a key figure in Mexico’s response to the pandemic, said on Tuesday that the World Health Organization does not recommend vaccinating children between the ages of 5 and 11 and that countries with sufficient vaccine coverage, such as Mexico, before developing countries with limited vaccination rates, should not vaccinate children. Coverage can increase their adult vaccination rate.
In Brazil, Mauro Paulino, the general manager of Datafolha, a well-known polling agency, said that one of the questions in the Bolsonaro government survey was the way the questions were structured. He repeatedly asked the interviewees, “You agree… Is it?” Failure to ask questions neutrally may elicit a response.
“Datafolha always gives two possible choices: whether the interviewee agrees or disagrees with the statement,” he said. “Both sides of the problem are necessary.”
Bolsonaro told supporters on Tuesday that the pressure to vaccinate children came from “vaccine lobby groups”-an implicit reference to pharmaceutical companies. The next day, many Bolsonaro supporters shared posts from the Telegram group “Doctor for Life”, which has more than 60,000 followers and often responds to the president’s unscientific COVID-19 recommendations.
A Telegram post with more than 200,000 shares said that no child should be a guinea pig in the pharmaceutical industry. Children around the world have taken tens of millions of doses, but there are few serious side effects. Although few children die from COVID-19, vaccinating them can minimize the spread of the virus in society.
Bolsonaro also said this week that he will not allow his 11-year-old daughter to be vaccinated. At the same time, his wife and son of a politician and at least 16 of his 22 ministers (including Health Minister Quiroga) received the injection.
Bolsonaro’s party politicians who are running for reelection in 2022 not only advocate vaccination, but also require proof of vaccination to enter certain places-this is another violation of personal freedom that Bolsonaro opposes .
Since the beginning of the pandemic, his chaotic management of the pandemic has been severely criticized, and the Senate Committee of Investigation has recommended that he face criminal charges.
But the president and his hardcore supporters on Telegram and WhatsApp did not flinch. Many people specifically interpreted his comments to his daughter as a refusal to immunize the child.
“There is a lot of information about the dangers of vaccines, but the research is not true,” said Nemer, an expert on the far-right group and an assistant professor of media studies at the University of Virginia. “They brought a lot of false information about vaccinating children to motivate the base.”
Associated Press reporter Savares reports from Silva de Sousa in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Eva Vergara is from Santiago, Chile, Debora Rey is from Buenos Aires, and Chris Sherman is from Mexico City.
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