Health authorities in Laos have said that vaccine hesitancy remains an issue in rural areas of the country, slowing the national vaccination program.
The Centre of Information and Education for Health reports that communities in rural areas across several provinces are experiencing slow progress in their vaccination drives due to concerns about the safety of vaccines among local people.
People in rural communities fear potential side effects attributed to vaccines, with health officials working in remote areas reporting the widespread belief that side effects from Covid-19 vaccines and other vaccinations can be fatal.
Meanwhile, those living far from urban centers say they believe they are not at risk and therefore do not need to be vaccinated. They feel the vaccines are more of a personal choice than a responsibility.
Authorities have made efforts to promote immunization through public awareness campaigns across the country, however, encouraging rural families to receive vaccinations.
The Laotian Times spoke with Dr. Chansay Patthammavong, Deputy Head of the National Immunization Program, who said that the elderly are considered a particularly high-risk group, with those in remote areas displaying lower demand for essential health services, including immunization.
“Many families in rural areas say they are concerned about the health of their elderly family members, worrying that their parents or grandparents may fall ill or die after receiving a vaccine,” said Dr. Chansay.
She said that health officials actively work to promote immunizations in rural areas, distributing information through village offices and via loudspeaker systems, however, many residents remain hesitant.
Disinformation about severe vaccine side effects persists, with posts on social media questioning the safety of vaccines continuing to proliferate.
“During the rice harvest period, many families remain in the fields. They eat and sleep in the fields until the work is done,” said Dr. Chansay.
“Sometimes our teams arrive in a rural village to administer vaccines but the local people are out in the fields. Despite being informed in advance, they would rather tend their fields than travel to the district office to receive a vaccination,” she added.
At the same time, the National Immunization Program faces logistical difficulties when transporting Covid-19 vaccines to remote areas.
Mountainous roads and rough terrain make transportation excessively difficult, while a lack of adequate vehicles means health workers must make arduous journeys to reach remote villages.
“Vaccines are still transported by road for the time being, as air travel during the Covid-19 period is problematic and flight schedules are unpredictable,” said Dr. Chansay.
Following the opening of the Laos-China Railway, however, the transportation of vaccines by train may become a new option for faster distribution among the northern provinces.