Anti-vaccine villagers attack nurses in Guatemala

Anti-vaccine residents in a village in rural Guatemala have attacked nurses who were trying to administer COVID-19 jabs, holding them for seven hours, officials say.

About 500 people blocked a road and vandalised the team’s cars in Maguilá, in the northern Alta Verapaz province.

The 11 workers were released after police negotiated with the villagers, who destroyed about 50 vaccine doses.

Authorities say online disinformation is feeding resistance to the vaccines.

The nurses were “verbally and physically attacked” by the residents, who let the air out of the workers’ tires and destroyed the cool boxes storing the doses, the health ministry said.

“We were very scared because we had never been through something like this. We were just doing our duty,” a nurse was quoted by the statement as saying. “We tried to explain a number of times that vaccination is voluntary and that we did not want to force anyone, yet they didn’t let us [work].”

Local media report that residents rejected the vaccine because a villager who received a dose had developed side effects, which were interpreted as being health problems linked to the jab.

Experts say the most common side effects of the vaccines are pain or tenderness at the injection site. Some people have wider effects like fever, headache, nausea and fatigue, but they are usually mild and short-lived.

Gabriel Sandoval, the director of the provincial health department, told the Associated Press officials had previously encountered communities that rejected vaccination teams, but that it was the first time they faced such physical resistance.

“This was bound to happen,” he said, citing false information about the vaccines being shared on social media. “A lot of people don’t believe in the illness… There is a clash of cultures”.

In a televised address on Saturday, President Alejandro Giammattei urged people to “support and respect” health officials carrying out the vaccination campaign who were being “threatened, attacked and even kidnapped”.

About 2.5 million people, or 25 per cent of the eligible population, have been fully vaccinated in Guatemala – one of the lowest rates in Latin America. To date, the country has confirmed more than 566,000 cases and 13,750 deaths. -AP

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