WHO tells Iraqis to get Covid-19 jab amid disinformation

WHO tells Iraqis to get Covid-19 jab amid disinformation campaign
3 min read
12 April, 2021
The World Health Organization in Iraq is concerned that disinformation about Covid-19 vaccines is preventing people from getting the jab.
Iraq's vaccination campaign started on March 2 but has had a low uptake[Getty]
The World Health Organisation (WHO) in Iraq has urged people to register for Covid-19 vaccinations, amid continued waves of disinformation on social media about the safety of the jabs.

The WHO Iraq said it "refutes the fabricated statement recently circulated in an unofficial social media platform to undermine the citizens' confidence in the safety and efficacy of Covid-19 vaccines", in a statement released Sunday.

"WHO would like to reiterate that Covid-19 vaccines are a game-changer in the fight against the pandemic, and confirms that the benefits of these vaccines outweigh any rare side effects. WHO calls upon citizens to continue registering for the vaccine and to get vaccinated as soon as possible. We will stop this pandemic only when the majority of people in Iraq have taken the vaccine," it added.

The health body added that it "does not use unofficial channels to release information on health issues, including on Covid-19 prevention and vaccination measures".

Health Minister Hassan Al-Tamimi also weighed in on the issue, underscoring that claims on social media have not been backed by evidence.

"All rumours and misinformation that have been raised about vaccines are inaccurate and not based on any solid scientific basis… Iraq has not recorded any serious or moderate side effects or complications among citizens who received the coronavirus vaccine," Tamimi said.

The health minister emphasised the efficiency of the products on Sunday, as Iraq received 200,000 doses of the Pfizer and Sinopharm vaccines.

Iraq's vaccination campaign started on 2 March, but has seen low turn-out after public fears about the vaccines' safety.

In response, the health ministry started a Facebook campaign with videos showing health professionals attesting to the safety of the vaccines.

Online disinformation has featured prominently in Iraq's experience of the pandemic, notably in late March when several Iraqi media outlets reported that an Iraqi pharmaceutical company, Pioneer, was about to release a cure for the Covid-19.

It came after the company had issued a press release saying that Pioneer was continuing its work of providing drugs that had shown some efficiency during treatment.

After a wave of support on social media, the company refuted the claims of a cure for the disease.

"Our company did not discover a treatment [for the virus]," head of marketing Ahmed Yusuf told Al Jazeera. "As mentioned in our press release, our efforts have focused on potentially providing anti-malarial drugs to the Iraqi market after some global research suggested that they might be effective in treating Covid-19."

The latest wave of online disinformation came during a surge of Covid-19 cases in Iraq.

According to the health ministry, the country recorded 6,791 new cases and 35 deaths for the last day on Sunday. To date, Iraq has recorded a total of 918,155 cases and 14,678 deaths.

Last week, Tamimi warned of "dire consequences" ahead due to citizens not adhering to coronavirus prevention measures.

The health minister said in a statement that those who continue to flout measures "are responsible for the increase in the number of infections", and called on tribal sheikhs, activists and influential figures to inform the public on the severity of the pandemic.

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