Thu. Jan 27th, 2022

Beirut, Lebanon “People can inject themselves with whatever chemicals they want until the end of time, but I do not want to,” 35-year-old Evelyne told Al Jazeera during a recent anti-vaccine rally in downtown Beirut.

She was among hundreds in Martyrs Square protesting against a government decision requiring public sector workers to be vaccinated or to take regular PCR tests at their own expense to get to work. They called it a “vaccine dictatorship”.

Lebanon has documented a rising number of daily COVID-19 cases since the holiday season, often breaking records of all times in the country with cash ties. Taking the vaccine in Lebanon is still a personal choice.

In addition, Lebanon is struggling to vaccinate its population, even though it does not have a shortage of supplies. Many people simply refuse to do this.

As of Thursday, only about 37 percent of the population had received two doses of vaccine, according to health ministry. Two-thirds of the population has so far registered to be vaccinated.

Roland Adwan, vice president of a trade union syndicate that organized the protest, said the policy violated personal freedoms enshrined in Lebanese constitution and international law.

“They want to enforce the vaccine, but which vaccine? There was a first dose, then a second dose, now a third dose, and what’s next? A fifth dose? ” he said in a warm speech.

“This is a lie for the world and even Donald Trump“The president of the strongest country in the world, said the World Health Organization is a liar.”

Adwan soon started coughing but assured the audience it was because he smoked four packs of cigarettes every day.

Health Minister Firas Abiad dismissed the recent protest as the health ministry held another “vaccine marathon” where thousands of people across the country could be stabbed without appointments.

“I think they [protest] numbers were low, [and] “can not be compared to the 30,000 who came to the vaccine centers on the same day,” Abiad told Al Jazeera.

Abiad said he believed some of the protesters were “misinformed and some were dishonest”.

Anti-vaxxers protest in Beirut.Lebanon has documented an increasing number of daily COVID-19 cases since the holiday season [Kareem Chehayeb/Al Jazeera]

Vaccine incorrect information

One Lebanese group on social media called Conscious Warriors For Truth distributed pamphlets during the protest, claiming that the virus could not be transmitted by asymptomatic patients, COVID-19 statistics were exaggerated and the vaccines were unsafe and ineffective.

Meanwhile, a priest on a WhatsApp group sent an audio recording in which he called on worshipers to attend the protest against the new vaccine regulation.

“If we do not act, we will call God to account, because we do not take a stand with justice,” he said. “In words we pray but in action we let the devil eat our children. Can you imagine vaccinating small children at school now?

“This is the true revolution that will bring the Virgin Mary to the forefront.”

Anti-vaccine content is common across Lebanese social media channels from various positions.

Mohamad Najem, executive director of the Beirut-based digital rights organization SMEX, told Al Jazeera that the financial crisis in Lebanon and the lack of confidence in the authorities had played a role in the hesitation of vaccines and the spread of misinformation. .

“They will share many conspiracy theory videos, series with [US President Joe] Praying and others, ”he explained. “It seems that most are resisting the authorities because of the financial crisis, while a handful are actually driving conspiracies against vaccines.”

The World Bank describes Lebanon’s economic crisis as one of the worst since the middle of the 19th century. In just over two years, the Lebanese pound has lost about 95 percent of its value, and the United Nations estimates that three-quarters of the population has fallen into poverty.

The almost bankrupt Lebanese government has not met since last October over political disputes.

In October 2019, mass protests rocked the country, with hundreds of thousands criticizing the country’s ruling parties, senior financial officials and friends of the private sector that have ruled Lebanon for decades.

As a result, many received their news and information through informal sources, including WhatsApp audio recordings.

a government decision requiring public sector workers to be vaccinated or to take regular PCR tests at their own expense to go to workProtesters protested against a government decision requiring public sector workers to be vaccinated or to take regular PCR tests at their own expense to get to work [Kareem Chehayeb/Al Jazeera]

Maroun al-Khawli, head of the union along with Adwan, said Lebanese officials were not aware of the extent of vaccine hesitation.

“Three thousand teachers do not want to be vaccinated, do you think the Lebanese government knows that?” he told Al Jazeera, claiming there is a “silent majority” of people who oppose the vaccine and vaccine mandates. “This is a group of people who are deprived and oppressed, their voices are silenced.”

Al-Khawli was vaccinated but said he believed it did not affect whether one could catch or transmit COVID-19.

“So in the end, it’s about how bad your symptoms are, and so it’s a personal choice,” he concluded.

However, research has shown that the vaccine reduces the ability to catch and infect others with the virus to varying degrees, which legislator Assem Araji repeated to Al Jazeera.

“They are free to express themselves, and it is their right to express any opinion they wish,” said Araji, who also chairs the parliamentary health committee. “But they cannot transmit diseases just because they do not want to be vaccinated, wear a mask or take other measures. You are now harming other people. ”

Some medical experts told Al Jazeera that Lebanon’s COVID-19 response strategy was arbitrary, focusing on reducing numbers, without any long-term restraint or reduction strategy. However, Araji, Minister of Health, Abiad, and other health officials in Lebanon said increasing vaccination is the key to reducing the spread as much as possible.

Last week, Lebanon opened a UAE-funded emergency COVID-19 field center in downtown Beirut, and Denmark donated 429,000 Moderna vaccine doses to the Ministry of Health so that children between the ages of five and 11 can start registering for their take first samples.

However, Khawli and others said they believed the Lebanese government could not push and promote strict measures for the unvaccinated.

“If the Lebanese government does not back down from its health dictatorship policy, there will be civil disobedience among thousands of people across Lebanon’s sectors,” Khawli said.

Anti-vaxxers protest in Beirut.Lebanon is struggling to vaccinate its population even though there is no shortage of it [Kareem Chehayab/Al Jazeera]

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