International Vaccine Attitudes: Student Perspectives from Around the World

COVID Regulations - Canada

Judy Hinton

COVID Regulations – Canada

Mercer Stauch (he/him), Journalist

As of October 14th, 56.7% of the United States population is fully vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus. That’s 188,281,747 Americans; this is representative of a massive coordination by scientists, researchers, elected officials, and the citizens who self-select to get the shots that are readily available to them. But it’s still just over half of the population, and Forbes reports that only 75% of eligible Americans, ages 12 and older, have received the vaccine; that means a significant number of people have decided not to immunize themselves. 

 

Misinformation, lack of trust in the CDC, or any number of reasons can lead people to this decision, and the choice is often criticized by the mainstream media, medical health professionals, and President Biden. Discussing this subject around Niwot tends to unearth varied sentiments about the choice, but the overwhelming feeling is something along the lines of “can we please all get vaccinated and put COVID in the past?” Needless to say, this shared feeling comes with a lot of frustration, only magnified by the fact that other countries seem to be returning to normal quicker than the United States. Plenty of nations are leaving the US in the dust when it comes to the hard statistics and vaccination rates; I interviewed three students from schools in Mexico and Sweden, as well as some of my extended family that recently spent weeks in multiple Canadian cities to try and get a sense of what vaccine attitudes are in these countries, and how the US is perceived internationally when it comes to the lagging numbers. 

 

As it turns out, the opinion climate in the United States is similar to what is occurring around the world in some ways, if not to the same degree. Read the interview highlights below: 

 

Mexico

38.5% Fully Vaccinated

350 Average Weekly Death Toll

 

According to university students Paco Francisco Carillo and Roberto Ivan Estrada, vaccine demand is high in their communities in Western Mexico. However, Fransisco Carillo notes, access to vaccines leaves a lot to be desired. “[T]hey’re super rare and they apply [sic] them only on specific dates.” Even with vaccine hesitancy, which both students say is prevalent, there are still more people looking to get vaccinated than there are opportunities. “[People] have observed that vaccinated people who become infected after receiving the vaccine do not become seriou-

Paco Francisco Carillo

sly [ill] and that deaths from COVID-19 in vaccinated people are very few,” Ivan Estrada says, but because Mexico is not a producer of vaccines, they have to wait and “depend on foreign laboratories.”

 

For them, it can be exasperating to compare the vaccine demands in Mexico to those of the United States. “Vaccines are widely available in the United States since it is a producing country, and the fact that a considerable number of people refuse to be vaccinated makes the comparison of the situations of both countries [something that’s talked about,]” says Ivan Estrada. He says that it’s often discussed how supply and demand for vaccines are opposite in each country. 

Still, vaccine hesitancy exists in Mexico; even though the population for the most part seems to understand “the risk of vaccination is much lower than the risk of acquiring the infection and its complications,” as stated by Ivan Estrada, he still sees  “A LOT” of vaccine misinformation driving reluctance. 

 

Sweden

68.6% Fully Vaccinated

13 Average Weekly Death Toll

 

Henry Nicholson is an American-born Swedish university student who has lived in Sweden for almost four years, and has a unique perspective on vaccine attitudes because of his connection to both countries. 

“At this point vaccines are widely available, and they will soon be expanding to 12 and up,” he says, which became the case this summer when the age limits were lowered and supply increased. After a period of limited availability, he said “it was easy to make an appointment as long as you had a personnummer (like a social security number but not secret and used for more stuff)”. 

Now, he says, demand is low. This is primarily because COVID’s starting to seem like a thing of the past in Sweden. Per Nicholson, “[Swedes] are definitely less concerned about the virus, but also obey the health department rules pretty well…. They are pretty tech-savvy and reclusive as a culture, so they adapted to going online”.

 Nicholson’s family owns and operates a vegan café in Gothenburg, and he says he’s run into a myriad of explanations for not opting to get the vaccine; one of them is the principles of veganism, where some customers find “ethical objections to the chicken eggs used in the manufacturing process, even though mRNA and a lot of modern vaccines don’t use them.” Beyond that, some have issues with government enforcement and personal freedoms, the speed of the development, or even a fear of needles. Still, the prevailing sentiment is that Swedes generally “just don’t think it’s that big of a deal.” 

That said, Sweden’s statistics demonstrate that vaccines have less of a stigma there than in the US; as they move out of the pandemic and into the future, the United State’s rate drags behind in comparison. 

 

Canada

79.294% Vaccinated

74 Average Weekly Death Toll

 

Judy Hinton, a US citizen and resident of Evergreen, Colorado, recently spent time in Ontario and Quebéc and commented on stark differences in vaccine attitudes there and in the US. First of all, in Quebéc, entering a restaurant required a four step process of disease prevention. She and her group could not enter before, “Producing our vaccine cards showing TWO doses of vaccine (Canadians have a QR vaccine card link on their phones, and every waitress and hostess had an app on a phone for checking them.),” she said, “showing our passports (or local ID if Canadian), writing down our phone # for contact tracing, and wearing our masks.”

One’s initial reaction may be that this seems extremely tenuous; apparently, Canadians feel differently. “I heard not a single person complain about their vaccine mandates nor about the required documentation,” Hinton said. “People expressed to us their belief that the vaccine is the path to their economic health, as well as their physic

Judy Hinton

al health.” Regarding mask-wearing

Judy Hinton

, Hinton describes the atmosphere as, “equally adamant… [they] did not hesitate to remind anyone who may have forgotten theirs in a given moment.” 

Judy Hinton

As American travelers, Hinton and her husband felt Canadians “definitely [had] an air of suspicion about our thoroughness in prevention, until we showed them otherwise…. I didn’t feel good about the poor impressions that they have of the U.S.” The average death toll in Canada continues to be among the lowest in the world when compared to population, and is also lower than the American average at time of publication. 

 

 

The public opinion of the vaccine continues to fluctuate in the United States, but vaccination rates have stagnated to the dismay of millions of Americans. As we edge closer to the end of the second year of the pandemic, there’s a lot we can learn from stories from around the world that add context to their respective statistics. It should be noted that ultimately, credible research has demonstrated that the vaccine is effective at preventing serious COVID cases, and that here in the United States, vaccines are free and widely available.