Within a few days of his infection, the pain was so bad that he was unable to walk. His head pounded as if he had been hit with a baseball bat. He thought he could die.
The response from those who were against vaccines made him sad.
“These anti-vaxxers that are online, you listen to them and think they might have something going on,” he said. “I can give you my word that there is nothing in what they say.”
Yet Mr Ajro’s experience is not unusual. Misinformation, such as the false claim that vaccines can affect female fertility, is widespread, especially on social media.
The small number of Australians directly opposed to COVID vaccinations – estimated at around 8 per cent – is receiving disproportionate attention, but health experts say their entrenched views are a problem as governments try to encourage as many people as possible to be vaccinated .
Then there are those who are unsure about receiving the vaccine, as Mr Arjo was, who delays receiving the plug.
Data from the Melbourne Institute’s vaccination doubt tracker shows this group is constantly shrinking, with those who said they do not know if they will be vaccinated now at 6.8 percent against 16.8 percent in April amid concerns over the safety of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Experts expect Australia to end up with a high level of vaccination according to developed world standards. The first dose in NSW for over 16 is about 90 percent. Victoria is not far behind with about 85 percent. On a first dose, Australia has already overtaken the United States and is just behind Germany.
The problem has so far been mainly a supply chain, and once these issues are fully resolved, the Melbourne Institute predicts that Australia can achieve at least 85 per cent of the adult population fully vaccinated.
It did not happen by accident. Tireless grassroots work within communities has been required to reach those who are on the fence around the plug, said Professor Holly Seale, a vaccine communications researcher from the University of NSW.
But further outreach and data collection must continue in the coming months to find those who still need to convince.
“We’re getting to a point where the people who are willing to run in and roll up their sleeves and get immunized are starting to slow down,” she said.
“Besides that, we will see, are there still people out there in the community who … have just bunkered down and somehow tried to save the situation out of concern that they just will not receive the AstraZeneca vaccine? I think we need to get in and do some more work with that group. ”
Aggie Geromanolis, 25, jumped at the chance to receive the vaccination, but it took much longer to convince her mother, Maria, to get the sting.
It was frustrating for Mrs Geromanolis, who works on blood-borne viruses as a program officer at the North Western Melbourne Primary Health Network.
“I used to have these conversations daily with Mom about the COVID vaccine, and I just could not understand why you would protect yourself from every other disease, but you do not do it for something like that that could put you on the ICU,” she said.
Her mother, 61, who was born in Greece and moved to Australia when she was 23, describes herself as well-informed, confident in science and law-abiding, but for several months still felt incredibly uneasy about receiving the vaccine. Her biggest barrier was a fear of side effects, she said.
“When it all started, it was all very new, and it was very, very fast, and we did not know anything about it, so I decided that I would not get the vaccine right away and that I would wait.” she said.
She said many of her friends were in no hurry to get vaccinated, believing they would not “put anything in their bodies that no doctor would give them a guarantee of”.
“There was fear involved, they were scared … it’s more about them waiting. They’re waiting for Novavax, which I understand is about to be brought in. So they are delaying getting vaccinated, ”she said.
Ms Geromanolis said she had also noticed a common theme within her community around vaccination.
“People really would not be pressured to do anything. Now that it’s mandatory, it’s like one more thing that you’re told what to do … they want the freedom to choose to do it themselves, and that was mom a lot. ”
But many conversations between Mrs. Geromanolis and her daughters helped convince her.
In the end, she says that the highly contagious nature of the virus, the new variants, and what she felt were her responsibility to her family and community, were all reasons why she changed her mind.
Mrs Geromanolis said it was these discussions that helped allay her fears, as well as those of her GP, who unreservedly told her to be vaccinated. She received the AstraZeneca vaccine in August, a few months after she was eligible.
The concerns Ms Geromanolis felt that delayed her vaccination are not uncommon, Professor Seale said.
She said vaccination doubts occur throughout society and depend on availability, eligibility, access issues, but also epidemiology.
Professor Julie Leask from the University of Sydney, Professor of Public Health, said the data point to trust being one of the key bases for vaccine admission and acceptance.
Good communication is not enough, she says, governments and institutions need to be more open than they normally would be to build and maintain trust.
“If it means being more transparent than you normally would, then do it,” she said.
Focus on hesitation can also be used to divert attention from failures on the part of governments.
Estimates put opponents of hard-core nuclear vaccine at just 2 to 4 per cent of the Australian population, Professor Leask said. A YouGov study found that Australia had very low levels of direct resistance to vaccines compared to other countries.
“We should target and focus on the hesitant people who may need a few shocks or social norms around vaccination.”
Professor Leask said the hesitation was a little more common and mainstream than direct opposition to vaccines.
“It is probably less likely to be informed about values around freedom and more likely to be informed about concerns about vaccine safety and also the feeling that vaccines remove and impair the sanctity of the body.”
And who are the ones who are most against vaccines?
A recent study published in British Medical Journal surveyed eight wealthy countries from late 2020 to early 2021. What marked those who hesitated or were against vaccines was a lack of trust in authorities and researchers, conspiratorial thinking and a lack of concern about COVID-19.
Professor of Management at the University of Queensland, Matthew Hornsey, said his own research has found an “extraordinarily” large statistical relationship between having conspiracy theories and being anti-wax.
“You can with some prediction predict if anyone is vaccinating and hesitates to know if they think Princess Diana was murdered.”
The conspiracy theories can take root in deep distrust of big pharma or the government.
“The content of the conspiracy will depend on whether the person is left or right,” he said.
Many conspiracy theorists start from a reasonable place, but use flawed logic to end up with an extreme conclusion. They do a lot of research, but they do their research as a lawyer can and do interpret evidence selectively in a way that is designed to reach their preferred conclusion. They only hear what they want to hear. ”
Ajro’s health improved enough to be released from a hospital over a week ago.
His biggest regret was how his experience affected his family.
“Seeing my kids cry and going through what they were going through and I had no control over my situation was the hardest part,” he said.
“I thought even if I got COVID, I would be ok, I was strong enough to take it. Let me tell you that it’s not worth it … you would never want it for your worst enemies, you have literally no control over your own body. ”
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