First, they refused the covid-19 vaccine, driven by fake news, fear or mistrust. Later, they repented, saw relatives die or felt the aggressive effects of the virus on their skin. On the front line, doctors tell similar stories, in some cases without second chances, of this minority of Brazilians who hesitated to protect themselves. What science foresaw can be seen in practice: the immunizing agent is the best weapon against the serious forms of the disease, which claimed 577,000 victims in the country in a year and a half.
The nursing technician Joana (fictitious name), 58, had to seek psychological help to live with the remorse of having denied the vaccine when she became available to health professionals in Sorocaba, in the interior of São Paulo, in February. Two months later, she contracted the disease and was hospitalized for 28 days. Her 61-year-old husband, on the other hand, did not resist.
Hospitalized in the capital at the time, because the ICU vacancies in her city had run out, Joana was not even able to say goodbye to her 40-year-old partner. “It was the saddest thing. I couldn’t even ask for forgiveness for not having been vaccinated and, perhaps, preventing him from getting this damned disease,” he says. “My children supported me and they support me, but inside I feel guilty, I feel remorse and also a revolt, because he could have been vaccinated if the vaccine had arrived sooner”, he says.
Obese, hypertensive and diabetic, Joana was approached by her colleagues to take the vaccine, but says she was afraid of reactions. “I’m from the health area and I’m not a denialist,” he says. “It’s just that I was already in poor health and I was afraid of the side effects, of aggravating my health conditions”, she recognizes, who also sees the influence of fake news in the choice. Disinformation has been one of the main challenges of the pandemic – even President Jair Bolsonaro was one of those responsible for spreading misleading messages about the covid.
Researches and experts point out that anti-covid vaccines are safe, side effects are rare and the benefits of the immunizing agent outweigh any risks. In case of doubt, it is necessary to seek medical advice.
Joana’s husband, who had no comorbidities, died two weeks before the date on which he could be vaccinated, according to the São Paulo calendar. She and the couple’s two adult children were vaccinated. The nursing technician still faces coronavirus sequelae, such as constant headaches and muscle weakness. “The worst thing is the pain in the conscience”, he says.
‘I felt very short of breath, dizziness. I was afraid’
When the symptoms appeared mildly, the 45-year-old self-employed Cristina (not her real name) gave little importance. It looked like the flu, she reports. As the days went by, the shortness of breath took her to the doctor. “The day I received the diagnosis was a very difficult time. The disease is serious and had already progressed. I could barely speak”, he recalls.
Hypertensive, the Salvadorian woman could already be vaccinated at that time in May, because of the comorbidity. She, however, distrusted the effectiveness of the immunizing agent and heard about infections among those vaccinated. Among the main advantages of the vaccine, studies show, is the reduction in severe cases of covid.
“I really regret it”, admits Cristina, who had 50% of her lungs compromised and was hospitalized for 15 days. “Today I understand that, having been vaccinated, I could not have suffered a more serious form. Experts say that the vaccine is safe, important for the collective. We have to trust,” she concludes, now protected with two doses.
Before, civil servant Ricardo (fictitious name), from São Paulo, saw the vaccine campaign as “a form of commerce” and refused to take the injection. His opinion only began to change in March. The 78-year-old father had 50% of his lungs affected, went through four hospitals, and died of covid.
Today, Ricardo tries to get closer to his family, of seven brothers. There was a split because of disagreements about the pandemic and the importance of the vaccine. “I haven’t seen any brothers since March of last year,” laments the 42-year-old. According to the civil servant, the father did not take the immunizing agent because his turn had not yet come. Coworkers, however, reported that Ricardo talked about not allowing relatives to take the dose.
On the influence of political disputes on his decision, he avoids making direct relation. “Each one has his opinion. I agree with the president on some things; on others, I don’t. I think he will also end up getting vaccinated”, he bets.
Ricardo’s change of attitude was confirmed last week, when he took the 1st dose of Coronavac – one of the main targets of fake news, mainly due to the Chinese origin of the product. “This attitude is worth more than many words. I was against it, but I took the vaccine”, he highlights. Bolsonaro, who could have been immunized since April, says he has not yet sought out the vaccine.
‘She said she needed to see the face of death to understand this’
Doctors who work on the front lines are still fresh in their minds about the cases of patients who refused the vaccine, had the disease and then expressed regret. Two cases marked infectious disease specialist Alexandre Naime, from the Hospital das Clínicas in Botucatu, in the interior of São Paulo. The first is from a 73-year-old man, contaminated by misinformation.
“He was overweight, drank alcohol, but got carried away by fake news. He kept a very busy page on Facebook where he shared posts referring to Coronavac as that Chinese vaccine from (governor of São Paulo João) Doria,” says Naime. A study by Fiocruz released this week, based on the analysis of data from 60 million Brazilians, reveals an effectiveness rate higher than 70% by Coronavac against hospitalizations and deaths by covid.
The elderly mentioned by Naime, who frequented bars and bocce courts, ended up taking the covid and his wife also became infected. “She was ten years younger than him, wore a proper mask and wanted to be vaccinated. In addition to being younger, you had no comorbidities. However, her case complicated, we were admitted to the HC
In the other case, a 56-year-old woman – obese, diabetic and hypertensive – did not take the immunizing agent when she had the opportunity. “It wasn’t just fear of adverse events, but also the influence of fake news. He said he’d rather get covid than get a vaccine.”
The doctor says that, one month after discharge, the patient used the social network to say that the vaccine was worth it. “She said she needed to see the face of death to understand that.”
But for Naime, unlike the United States and some parts of Europe, vaccine resistance is more punctual. “I believe that it is because the national immunization program is in the ‘DNA’ of the Brazilian. And, despite all the propaganda made against some vaccines, such as Coronavac, the belief in the effectiveness of the vaccine in the memory of Brazilians is greater”, he says.
Datafolha’s July survey shows that population adherence to the anti-covid vaccine reached a record level: 94%. The balance considers who had already been vaccinated and who expressed an intention to be vaccinated.
Leandro Fonseca, also a frontline doctor, came across several similar cases, but one of them marked him. “One man, who was already at a certain age, stopped being vaccinated and paid with his life for it. It was a family of educated people, but politically divided. He said he would not get the vaccine from China and ended up catching the coronavirus.” details.
Fonseca, from Sorocaba, says the patient was hospitalized and got worse. “When I was about to be intubated, he asked me if I would have avoided intubation if I had been vaccinated. Regret was visible. I could not have said anything else: many patients in his condition, but vaccinated, did not need to be intubated,” he says. “It’s sad to see how many people, out of ignorance or political reasons, give up something as essential as preserving life.”