Reluctance to vaccination, a real problem in minority groups

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The reluctance to take the Covid-19 vaccine among marginalized ethnic minority populations must be seen as a real problem. Much of the dialogue and rhetoric around the hesitation and vaccine denial in this country focuses on far-right extremist groups and their protests in different cities over different weekends. Their agenda is promoted by people who are anti-masks, anti-vaccines, and believe Covid is a hoax.

Oddly enough, many people who identify with these groups refused (and still do) accept women’s bodily autonomy in the repeal referendum, but now use pro-choice slogans such as “my body.” , my choice ”to promote the discriminatory violation of their individual freedom – that is, to be offered a non-compulsory and potentially life-saving vaccine.

These groups also include those who have taken to marching to the homes of politicians, denouncing homophobic and hate-motivated abuses. We see them all – on social media, in the press and in the news.

Yet Ireland has one of the highest positivity rates in the world for the Covid vaccination, with almost 90% of those eligible. Therefore, the potential exists to dismiss vaccine reluctance as something to ignore, nothing that affects us as we are all vaccinated and the far right is as mad as a box of frogs.

However, there are other populations within our society who are reluctant to receive the vaccine for reasons unrelated to a political agenda or far-right extremism – ignoring these groups or hiding them behind. a positive vaccination rate is reckless and will further aggravate the problems facing public health in this country.

Negative perceptions

Migrant communities in Ireland, especially Roma communities, have a very negative perception of the Covid-19 vaccine. Many, when asked, will refuse to receive it because they fear death and disability. Some will say that they would rather try their luck with the Covid than get vaccinated.

Their hesitation is manifold and very real. He is informed by the media and news channels of different countries as well as by social media and what they see in their daily feed. But on closer inspection, the social determinants of their health are key to understanding where this suspicion and fear of the vaccine is coming from.

Roma communities have a long history of marginalization and discrimination across Europe, including genocide, forced sterilization, expulsion from certain countries, linguistic and cultural oppression, slavery and persistent and endemic racism. .

Anti-Gypsyism or racism directed against Roma communities continues unabated in the 21st century and evidence suggests that it has increased during the Covid-19 pandemic.

In Bulgaria, planes flew over Roma neighborhoods, spraying disinfectant on the houses and streets below. In Portugal, fences were built around Roma communities to prohibit free movement and many Roma communities were blocked off as a precaution, including Bulgaria, Greece, Portugal, Romania and Slovakia, while it There was no evidence of positive cases of Covid within the community at that time. time.

In the European Parliament, a Bulgarian MEP called Roma communities “nests of contagion”. The mayor of Kosice in Slovakia called them “socially unsuitable people” to defend his public health arrangements aimed at forcibly separating Roma communities within the city.

In addition, Roma communities are disproportionately affected by communicable diseases, such as measles, hepatitis and tuberculosis, as well as non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular and respiratory diseases and are less likely to seek services. of health due to health inequalities.

They also have a shorter lifespan and a lower self-rated health status than non-Roma populations.

Before, during and after migration to Ireland, migrant communities, including Roma, are exposed to socio-economic stressors, including poor and overcrowded living conditions, limited access to water, sanitation and hygiene services; and linguistic, cultural and legal barriers to access. timely and appropriate care, all of which negatively impact the health and well-being of their families.

Inaccessible health systems, combined with the poor living conditions experienced by Roma in many countries, including Ireland, disproportionately expose Roma to increased risks of Covid-19, including infection, community transmission, hospitalization and death.

A Roma was one of the first victims of Covid in Ireland and rates of positivity for the disease within communities remain high.

Research tells us that marginalized and isolated groups are significantly influenced by socio-economic and socio-cultural barriers such as poverty, lack of representation, inadequate housing, exclusion and poor pathways to education, which leads to mistrust of government institutions such as health care providers.

Competing priorities

To put it plainly, the competing priorities of ensuring that children have enough food or a bed to sleep in or a parent who has a job that allows them to stay in the country, becomes more of a priority than preventive health care. .

Attempts to counter this deeply rooted problem require us to show positive portrayals of Roma in our media, health campaigns and health literature and, more importantly, to ensure that point of entry contact is respectful and culturally and appropriately informed.

We need targeted community health services that employ Roma allies to become ‘agents of change’ in terms of demystifying the threat of Covid-19 vaccination. We need meaningful community advocacy services funded and we need to continue the support links that were put in place during the pandemic to target this “hard to reach” population.

Around 2 to 3 million deaths are prevented each year worldwide thanks to vaccination. Yet in 2019, the World Health Organization identified low vaccination rates as one of the top ten threats to global health.

In the wake of a pandemic and the impact of the Covid vaccination, it would be fair to say that vaccine reluctance is more of a threat than ever.

Anne Cronin holds a master’s degree in public health and works as an independent management and research consultant with the HSE. She has 20 years of experience in health inclusion with marginalized populations.


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