Myanmar Factory Workers Face Difficult Choice; Take the Chinese COVID-19 Vaccine or be Fired

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A health worker wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) prepares to administer COVID-19 novel coronavirus swab tests on freight truck drivers at the Yangon-Mandalay expressway in Yangon on October 13, 2020. (Image: YE AUNG THU/AFP via Getty Images)

Factory workers in Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city, are facing a difficult choice; receive the Chinese-made COVID-19 vaccine, despite concerns over possible side effects and receive a bonus, or refuse the vaccine and lose their job. 

The workers are being coerced into taking the Sinopharm vaccine, one of two vaccines developed by China to combat the coronavirus that have been approved by the W.H.O. for global use and have been heavily relied upon to vaccinate the Chinese public. 

A labor official with the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society rights group, Thet Thet Aung, told Radio Free Asia (RFA) that authorities have been offering cash bonuses to factory workers to get the controversial vaccine while other factories are threatening to fire employees who refuse. 

She indicated that only a small number of factories had not pressured workers to get vaccinated adding that, “most workers are too scared to be vaccinated … because they haven’t been given any details about the vaccine.”

The Sinopharm vaccine is reported to be 78.1 percent effective and appears to be useful in decreasing the severity of symptoms but also appears to do little to prevent the spread of the virus. 

Workers are questioning who will be accountable should workers experience side effects or severe illness after being administered the vaccine as factory officials have stated that it was not their responsibility, Thet Thet Aung said. 

Myanmar’s health care system is said to be on the brink of collapse due to “a poorly managed response to a third wave of COVID-19” following a military coup on Feb. 1, 2021, RFA reported. 

According to worldmeter.com, there have been 399,282 COVID-19 cases recorded in Myanmar with 15,389 deaths associated with the disease; however these numbers may be an understatement as information out of the region since the coup has been considered unreliable.