Vaccinations against COVID-19 - how is the Romani community in the Czech Republic responding?
Registration for vaccinations against COVID-19 in the Czech Republic began on Friday, 15 January for citizens 80 years of age or older and initially featured difficulties when the system was unable to keep up with the demand to register. According to data from the state team of what is being called the Smart Quarantine system, as of 13:00 on Monday, 18 January almost half of the senior citizens aged 80 and over who do not live in retirement homes had registered.
Other groups in the population will be able to register for vaccinations in the future. A stormy discussion over whether to undergo vaccination or not is ongoing in the country and a great deal of disinformation is playing a role in that discussion.
News server Romea.cz has been asking members of the Romani community what their opinion of vaccination is. Why, exactly at this moment, are some Romani people falling for the disinformation on the Internet?
Opinions about vaccination among Romani people overwhelmingly influenced by disinformation
According to Romani community member Cyril Koky, who ran as a candidate for the Pirate Party in the Senate elections and hopes to run for the Chamber of Deputies later this year, vaccination is the only way to end the pandemic. "Nobody has found any other option besides vaccination, for the time being. My wife is a nurse, she has already been vaccinated and I will be too. Vaccination is an opportunity to get our lives back on track," he told Romea.cz.
Romani community member Michal Miko, director of the RomanoNet organization, agrees with that perspective. "I will certainly go to be vaccinated, I consider this a rational matter. It's like any of the other vaccinations I've undergone, whether in childhood or as an adult. I'll get vaccinated so I can live freely, be in the world without fear of contracting the virus and then infecting other people around me," he told Romea.cz, recalling that according to the available statistics, of 105 000 people who have been vaccinated, just 70 cases have been reported of mild side effects, such as reddening of the skin, etc.
Miko told Romea.cz he is aware many Romani people are opposed to vaccination, and in his view, social media has great influence over them. "It does bother me that some people believe hoaxes and other untruths on the Internet, I associate this with a lack of e-literacy, unfortunately - I'm not saying we all have to be experts in communicating online, but I always check the source of the information I am receiving and then form my opinion. Unfortunately, on Facebook and other social media we are witnessing absolute craziness, fanaticism, quarrels and other experiences," he said.
Koky also said he is aghast at what some Romani community members share on Facebook. "Instead of people listening to actual experts, they share different hoaxes and lies. I'm genuinely aghast at what is happening on Facebook today," he told Romea.cz.
Gineli poll of Romani people: Most believe vaccination is important
Miko has initiated a video survey of well-known Romani figures on the subject of vaccination against the novel coronavirus. The survey was produced by the Gineli YouTube channel and features the answers of 14 respondents, most of whom favor vaccination.
The Romani popular singer Gitana, for example, is unequivocally for vaccination and will be getting vaccinated herself. "We're living in very hard times, people are grappling either with disease or financial crisis. Learn the truth about vaccination - there are many hoaxes and lies on the Internet. I'll get vaccinated the moment it's my turn," she says in the video, adding the reason why: "Your freedom ends where mine begins. Be human."
The director Markéta Nešlehová shares that opinion. "I'll get vaccinated as soon as I can. Vaccination will restore our freedoms, the opportunity to meet with friends, we'll be able to travel, life will return to normal," she says in the video.
Jan Kandráč, saxophonist with the band Gypsy Mercedes, is also unequivocal. "I am fighting for vaccination, and not just for Romani people. There is no other solution. If you want to return to normal, get vaccinated. Don't believe the delusions of pro-Russian propaganda," he says in the video.
The musician and singer Vladko Pompa thinks the same way and believes vaccination is the only option. "I believe in modern medicine, don't let yourselves be deceived by fake news," he says.
Other Romani community members in favor of vaccination are the musician Ladislav Bílý and Slovak MP Peter Pollák, Jr. "My family and I will be getting vaccinated, we won't be able to function otherwise," Bílý says in the video.
The singer Bartoloměj Girga says he comprehends people being afraid of the new vaccine, but believes it is probably the only thing that will save humanity. However, an opposing opinion was expressed by the musician Milan Dančo, who believes it is too soon to assess whether the vaccine itself might not have side effects.
"If it's not compulsory, if I won't be forced to do it, then I won't get vaccinated," Dančo said in the video. The same concerns are expressed by musician Milan Kroka.
"I don't know this vaccine, it hasn't been sufficiently tested and I'm afraid of its consequences," Kroka says. As for Romani community member Patrik Nistor, a musician from the Remix Bangu group, he believes that the vaccine has been developed "too quickly" and people will be forced to undergo vaccination eventually.
Jan Surmaj Sivák also expresses the belief that people will have to undergo vaccination and will be forced to do so. Lyricist Pavel Botoš warns that the vaccine was rapidly developed, which is why he doesn't trust it yet and won't be getting vaccinated, but he does not rule out doing so in future.
Romani people living in socially excluded localities: Negative positions on vaccination predominate
Nikola Taragoš, director of the Romodrom organization, has described to news server Romea.cz where the Romani men and women living in socially excluded localities stand on vaccination. "According to information from our field workers, distrust of vaccination is dominant in the socially excluded localities," he told Romea.cz.
"People are quite frequently influenced by disinformation. What's more, the allegation that people are being paid to be vaccinated is appearing very often, which is absurd," Taragoš said.
"My estimate is that about 70 % are against vaccination and 30 % are in favor of it," the director of Romodrom told Romea.cz. CNN Prima News in the Czech Republic recently released a reportage from the city of Ostrava about local residents' negative positions on vaccination.
"I refuse the vaccine, they want to exterminate us," is one reaction recorded by CNN Prima News reporter Iva Motýl. "Babiš is lying, he pretended to be vaccinated, there wasn't any needle."
"The Government wants people to die," was another allegation featured in the reportage. Romani community members interviewed were reiterating the opinions of anti-vaxxer activists who allege the novel coronavirus either does not exist, or is just the common flu, or is a conspiracy leading to the managed reduction of the human population on Earth, with some Romani residents of Ostrava also alleging Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš has not been vaccinated and that his publicized vaccination was faked for the media.
Absurd conspiratorial opinions were also voiced in the reportage about the vaccination actually being a plot to implant microchips in the population. Ostrava resident Kumar Vishwanathan said he believes Romani people will eventually get vaccinated and that about 70 % of the Romani population will receive injections, just like the majority population.
"I'm still an Indian, I'm not a Romani man, and for that reason I can only convince a few individuals at most to get vaccinated," Vishwanathan, who is the director of the Life Together (Vzájemné soužití) organization in Ostrava, told CNN Prima News. "Only figures from the Romani community will be able to convince other Roma."
"The Roma will not believe outsiders," Vishwanathan said. However, CNN Prima News reports that Romani people interviewed in Ostrava were not even convinced by a video posted to Facebook by Vlax Romani community member Josef Stojka, who has been hospitalized with novel coronavirus and has already recorded more than one video right from his hospital bed.
ROMEA finds Facebook users opposed to vaccination while Instagram users favor it
News server Romea.cz has surveyed opinions on vaccination among Facebook and Instagram users who follow the ROMEA organization's social media profiles; ROMEA is followed by almost 44 000 Facebook users, more than 400 of whom participated in the poll, and 66 % expressed the opinion that they would not get vaccinated. The remaining 34 % of those polled said they would undergo vaccination.
Those proportions were inverted among users of Instagram, who also tend to be younger. ROMEA has almost 2 500 followers there, 100 of whom participated in the poll.
Almost 60 % of the Instagram users said they would get vaccinated while the rest said they would not. Divided opinions about vaccination currently exist throughout the entire Czech Republic.
According to a December poll by Median for public broadcaster Czech Radio, 47 % of those surveyed refuse to be vaccinated. In that poll, 40 % of those surveyed said they would undergo vaccination.
The remainder of those polled were undecided. Among those who oppose vaccination against COVID-19, most identified themselves as voting for the "Freedom and Direct Democracy" (SPD) party (81 %), while the biggest supporters of vaccination identified themselves as voting for the Social Democrats, 51 % of whom said they would get vaccinated.
According to the Median poll, men are more accommodating of the idea of a vaccine, and openness to it also increases with the level of education the respondents say they have achieved. Those findings seem to match the results of the survey among those who follow the ROMEA organization on Instagram, most of whom are Romani students being supported in their educations by the ROMEA organization.
Opponents of vaccination: The vaccine was developed too quickly
News server Romea.cz has warned in several previous articles about the most frequently-published pieces of disinformation or myths associated with COVID-19 or vaccination. Those opposed to the vaccine, whether Romani or not, very often reiterate the idea that the vaccine has been developed "too hastily".
The State Institute for Drug Control in the Czech Republic has answered that question on its website. "In the last few years, science has undergone enormous developments and we have options available that did not exist until recently. Research into coronaviruses generally has been happening for many years, including the development of vaccines (against SARS and MERS) - some aspects of that previous research were taken advantage of for this vaccine. The principles governing the vaccines that have been developed are essentially nothing new, they are either already being used in other vaccines (vector vaccines) or the same principle is used in drugs developed for treating many other diseases (mRNA vaccines). The rapid development of this vaccine, therefore, was based on our detailed knowledge of the basic, general components of the virus. Thanks to that, it has been possible to 'complete' the vaccine in a relatively short time by inserting the gene molecules specific to COVID-19," explains the institute on its website, pointing out that another factor influencing the fast development of the COVID-19 vaccine was the gravity of the societal impact of COVID-19 on the lives of people all over the world.
"Unlike other vaccines, development of this vaccine was sufficiently financed and took place in close contact with regulatory authorities providing a great deal of scientific and expert advice not just on production of the vaccine, but also on conducting the clinical studies. The registration procedure was shortened to a minimum by regulatory authorities with respect to administrative steps," the institute says.
According to Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš (ANO), 105 167 people were vaccinated against the novel coronavirus in the Czech Republic as of Saturday afternoon. The Health Ministry publishes data on vaccinations every Thursday.
The country proceeding the most rapidly in vaccinating people against the novel coronavirus is Israel, which has reportedly vaccinated more than 25 % of its population. Among European Union countries the one with the best performance is Denmark, which has vaccinated more than 2.5 % of its population so far, followed by Malta and Slovenia.
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