Vaccine Distrust Drives COVID Infections, Deaths in Thai Deep South

Mariyam Ahmad
Pattani, Thailand
Vaccine Distrust Drives COVID Infections, Deaths in Thai Deep South Health-care workers give COVID-19 vaccine shots to residents at a local administration office in Pattani, Thailand, Oct. 27, 2021.

Distrust of COVID-19 vaccine jabs driven by fake news is a reason why new infections and virus-related deaths have shot up in Thailand’s Deep South, a doctor from a health-task force in the border region said Wednesday.

On the same day, all those who died from coronavirus infections in the far southern provinces were unvaccinated, and 23 percent of Thailand’s hospitalizations from the virus were reported in the Deep South, according to officials at the Center for the COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA).

“The problem is that people are afraid to get vaccinated because of fake news, including that you can die from vaccines after two years [and] you can die even when vaccinated,” said Dr. Anurak Sarapap, deputy province chief medical officer at the Songkhla Provincial Public Health Office, citing some of the fears expressed by locals about the vaccine.

“I insist that these are fake news.”

After an online meeting with local public health officials, the doctor linked religious leaders and media in the Deep South with pushing fake news that has driven down vaccination rates. The mainly Muslim and Malay-speaking region along Thailand’s frontier with Malaysia is made up of the provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat, and four districts of Songkhla province.

Anurak pleaded for regional media to report accurate information about the coronavirus in order to aid in vaccination efforts.

Within the Deep South, 551 patients are hospitalized with COVID-19 in Songkhla, 532 in Pattani, 475 in Yala and 331 in Narathiwat the seventh. Thailand recorded 8,542 new infections on Wednesday, according to health officials.

Dr. Sumanee Watcharasin, a director at the Bureau of Risk Communication and Health Behavior Promotion, told MPs that most COVID-19 deaths were linked to people who were not vaccinated, including four in Pattani, three in Yala and one in Songkhla on Wednesday.

“One hundred percent of deaths today, all eight people who died were not vaccinated. CCSA is concerned that more than 90 percent of deaths in the last month in the Deep South are people older than 60 years old, people with seven congenital diseases, pregnant women and children, all of whom were not vaccinated,” she said.

Among 3.58 million people in the southern border region, 41.9 percent or 1.5 million people had received a first vaccination dose while only 27.2 percent, or less than 1 million people were fully vaccinated as of Oct. 10.

On Wednesday, 33.3 percent or 1.2 million people in the Deep South were fully vaccinated, compared to 80 percent or 5.8 million people in Bangkok.

Anurak said health officials would be stationed in Deep South communities to start vaccinating religious leaders on Thursday.

Artef Sohko, a local NGO director in Pattani, said the government should make vaccination centers more accessible to the people and create a more friendly atmosphere.

“The government should understand the Malay-Muslim people are conservatives and they distrust the central government. Vaccination centers should be set up close to the communities and the people who run them should be trusted among the locals,” he told BenarNews.

“This may help increase the number of people who will be inoculated,” he said, noting some residents need to be vaccinated to work in Malaysia or other countries.

A Yala farmer said he was against getting a vaccination because of risks in taking the shots.

“I’m scared. A lot of people on the news died from getting vaccines,” Sulaiman Mudosalae told BenarNews. “Even though someone may not die immediately, he or she could get cancer from it.

“My friend told me that many people contracted COVID-19 even after being inoculated,” he said. “I may not be allowed in the bank but I still won’t do it.”


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