Doctors defend brutally frank vaccine campaign

As Covid numbers shoot up, the Czech government is making an all-out effort to convince more people to get vaccinated against the infection. A brutally frank campaign in the media showing people close to death and those who have succumbed to the infection has sparked controversy among media experts and the public alike. However, doctors say the urgency of the situation requires drastic action.

Patients in critical condition and dead bodies being placed in coffins with the captions: He thought he had time enough or She doesn’t believe in vaccines – those are some of the drastic real-life pictures people are getting to see in what the health minister says is a last- ditch effort to get the message across. The photos taken in a Prague hospital have left many people stunned and elicited a protest from the rector of the Technical University in Prague Vojtěch Petráček who sent Health Minister Adam Vojtěch an open letter saying the campaign was distasteful and unethical and should be scrapped before it caused people psychological damage.

Minister Vojtěch has refused to do so, saying the campaign is realistic and may save lives. Many doctors have come out in his defense. Marek Orko Vácha is head of the Medical Ethics Department at the Medical Faculty of Charles University.

“None of the people in the photos can be identified –no faces are shown. Yes, the campaign is raw and even controversial. But we are in a situation of extreme urgency and getting the message across that vaccines save lives is more important than anything else. We are at war with a virus and the situation is extremely grave –people need to know that.”

Adam Vojtěch | Photo: Office of Czech Government

Health Minister Adam Vojtěch made a similar statement in defense of the campaign, saying “Covid  numbers have become just numbers. We wanted to show the reality of what is happening in hospitals to those who are sitting in their comfort zones and fail to see that we are in the middle of the worst health crisis in over a century. The campaign may be raw, it may be brutal, but what you see are real doctors and real patients.”

Jan Krajhanzl, a psychologist at Masaryk University in Brno agrees that people need to see what is happening.

“The reality is what is happening in our hospitals, where medical staff face another critical period which will hit them and their families hard. The reality is that thousands more people will die unnecessarily and tens of thousands will lose their loved ones. So if someone runs out onto the deck of the Titanic and yells that the ship is sinking – are we going to slam them for spoiling the good mood? I think we need to talk about the risks that we can still influence.”

Although it is still too early to judge the effects of the campaign, there is fierce opposition to inoculation in the eastern border regions. Mobile inoculating units sent out to facilitate the process for the locals say they get stones thrown at them and not even appeals for support from local priests or pub-owners help.

Just over 6 million of the country’s 10.7 million inhabitants have concluded their primary vaccination against Covid.

Photo: Czech Ministry of Health