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'Vaccines are satanic': Bolivia battles fake news in inoculation drive

'Vaccines are satanic': Bolivia battles fake news in inoculation drive
'Vaccines are satanic': Bolivia battles fake news in inoculation drive Copyright (c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2021. Click For Restrictions -
Copyright (c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2021. Click For Restrictions -
By Reuters
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By Monica Machicao

EL ALTO, Bolivia (Reuters) - Bolivia's immunization drive against COVID-19 is being hit by anti-vaccine misinformation that is stoking scepticism and leaving inoculation centers half empty, a challenge for the government facing a wave of new infections.

Health workers and officials have raised concerns about low turnout at some vaccination sites, saying jabs are going to waste. They blame fake news campaigns that have included leaflets saying vaccines contain "satanic" material.

"We read some pamphlets in El Alto from anti-vaccine groups about the presence of a substance in the vaccines from Lucifer and because of that the vaccines were satanic," said Maria Rene Castro, deputy minister of epidemiology.

"Global disinformation has come to our country and it has had an impact on people who are avoiding getting vaccinated."

Bolivia, like much of South America, is being hammered by a deadly new wave of coronavirus infections, with recent daily cases at 98% of the country's peak set in February. So far a total of 340,000 people have been infected and 14,000 have died. (Graphic on cases and deaths)

The region has also struggled with a scarcity of vaccines, though Bolivia has started to see more doses flow in after deals for Russia's Sputnik V, China's Sinopharm and with India's Serum Institute for AstraZeneca shots.

However, many vaccines centers in major cities have continued to face low turnout, with empty sites and queues.

"I don't want to get vaccinated, I don't want to die and I don't want to get sick," said El Alto resident Rogelio Mayta.

Health worker Patricia Almanza said that organization around the vaccine campaign had been poor, which had not helped encourage people to come to get their shots.

"It's criminal that during this time of the pandemic we have to discard vaccines," she said.

"There are places where the vaccines are being discarded, or health workers are going out to look for people to vaccinate so that something so precious is not being thrown away."

Bolivia has given at least one shot to just 7% of its population, far behind the 32% in the European Union and 48% in the United States. (Graphic on vaccinations)

Wealthier Latin Americans have traveled overseas, especially to the United States, to get vaccinated, which has created a stark divide between the rich and poor. Vaccine scepticism risks widening that even further.

"For me the COVID-19 vaccine is not credible," said Ismael Blanco on the dusty narrow streets of the highland city. "I don't trust the vaccine."

(Reporting by Monica Machicao, Santiago Limachi, and Sergio Limachi; Editing by Adam Jourdan and Lisa Shumaker)

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