Missionaries stoking fears of vaccines in Amazon villages, say tribal leaders

WION Web Team
Brasilia Published: Feb 12, 2021, 07:27 PM(IST)

A municipal health worker and an environmental military police officer talk to an indigenous woman before her receiving the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine at the Sustainable Development Reserve of Tupe in the Negro river banks in Manaus, Brazil. Photograph:( Reuters )

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On the São Francisco reservation in the state of Amazonas, Jamamadi villagers sent health workers packing with bows and arrows when they visited by helicopter this month, said Claudemir da Silva, an Apurinã leader representing indigenous communities on the Purus river, a tributary of the Xingú

Tribal leaders and advocates claim medical teams working to immunise Brazil’s remote indigenous villages against the coronavirus have encountered fierce resistance in some communities where evangelical missionaries are stoking fears of the vaccine. 

On the São Francisco reservation in the state of Amazonas, Jamamadi villagers sent health workers packing with bows and arrows when they visited by helicopter this month, said Claudemir da Silva, an Apurinã leader representing indigenous communities on the Purus river, a tributary of the Xingú. 

“It’s not happening in all villages, just in those that have missionaries or evangelical chapels where pastors are convincing the people not to receive the vaccine, that they will turn into an alligator and other crazy ideas,” he said by phone. 

That has added to fears that Covid-19 could roar through Brazil’s more than 800,000 indigenous people, whose communal living and often precarious healthcare make them a priority in the national immunisation programme. 

Tribal leaders blame Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro and some of his avid supporters in the evangelical community for stoking skepticism about coronavirus vaccines, despite a national death toll that lags only the United States. 

“Religious fundamentalists and evangelical missionaries are preaching against the vaccine,” said Dinamam Tuxá, a leader of APIB, Brazil’s largest indigenous organization. 

The Association of Brazilian Anthropologists denounced unspecified religious groups in a statement on Tuesday for spreading false conspiracy theories to 'sabotage' the vaccination of indigenous people. 

Many pastors of Brazil’s urban evangelical megachurches are urging followers to get vaccinated, but they say missionaries in remote territories have not gotten the message. 

“Unfortunately, some pastors, who lack wisdom, are spreading misinformation to our indigenous brethren,” said Pastor Mario Jorge Conceição of the Assembly of God Traditional Church in Manaus, the capital of Amazonas state.

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