- By Amy Suhana binti Mohamed Noor
Herd immunity can only be achieved after 80% of the total population is vaccinated. Malaysia is facing a threat of anti-vaxxers with its propaganda, and misinformation that slows down the vaccination rate and increase hesitancy of vaccine among the public.
21,102,655 Malaysian population have registered for Covid-19 vaccination and 88% of them have already received their first dose. However, only 42.5% of Malaysians are fully vaccinated. This puts Malaysia in third place among ASEAN countries after Singapore with 76.2% and Cambodia with 49.3% of the fully vaccinated population.
Malaysia is currently implementing the National Covid-19 Immunisation programme from February 2021 until February 2022. Malaysia acquired mRNA, viral vector, and inactivated virus type of vaccines from Pfizer/BioNTech, Oxford/Astra Zeneca, Sinovac, CanSino Biologics, Janssen (Johnson & Johnson), and Sinopharm.
The programme involves all frontliners from the medical practitioners, healthcare workers including technical members, defense, and essential services sector. 704 vaccines administration centers were built from transforming hotel halls, public halls, university halls, hospitals, clinics, and other suitable infrastructure. The JKJAV set up the general timeline, the rate of vaccinations depends on the distribution according to the zones and states.
While the initiative best protects the health of the public, challenges such as logistics issues involving vaccine storage at the PPV, lack of manpower due to vaccination center operating almost every day, and slow vaccination rate due to small PPV capacity that can accommodate the vaccinees at one time.
Another threat to the national vaccination program is the anti-vaxxers. These are the individuals that spread false information and propaganda through social media. While this threat is common even since the implementation of the National Immunisation Program in 1956, but due to the fast rate of information exchange through platforms such as Whatsapp, Facebook, Telegram groups, and other social media platform, it has increased the number of anti-vaxxers.
The significant impact of Covid-19 on national health is the high mortality rate and high hospital admission rate. This is a threat to national health because the high rate of transmission of the Covid-19 virus from a person to any surface and through other human contacts as well. Various variants such as Delta have a faster rate of transmission. This impacts the rate of hospitalization and severity of the case. Individuals who are not vaccinated are not only vulnerable to getting infected but also have a higher chance to transmit the virus to other people especially those who are ineligible for vaccination such as children.
Proof of vaccination works can be seen through the Malaysia Immunization program on the Polio Eradication Program. The first and third dose of Polio from 2001 to March 2017 shows that herd immunity was achieved with more than 95% of the population are vaccinated and there are no new cases of Polio arise.
Action should be taken
Anti-vaxxers should be fined for spreading false information that causes more people to refuse from getting vaccinated. This harms public health and leaves many people vulnerable to getting infected with Covid-19. The government should also make vaccination compulsory for every eligible candidate. The anti-vaxxers should be educated on the misinformation they have believed in to ensure a more effective change.
The media should work together with the Ministry of Communication and Multimedia to filter the content of false information on the Covid-19 vaccine. Campaigns and exposure on vaccination with the slogan of ‘Lindungi Diri, Lindunigi Semua’ should be more active through mass media to correct the perception and hesitation on vaccine among the public.
The Head of villages should be informed and educate on the importance of vaccines to encourage the villagers to get vaccinated. Government should also prepare modes of transportation for those who are in need to move to vaccine centers and provide assistance for those who are illiterate to be aware of the benefits of vaccines.
The concern that if Malaysia cannot achieve herd immunity is that it could lead to vulnerability of public health. When individuals are not vaccinated, the chances of getting infected and spreading the virus is very high. Those who are infected could suffer from stage 3 or 4 which can cause severe damage to the lungs and death.
When public health is vulnerable, economic activity will also be affected. Many companies have to reduce the number of workers, reduce operation time and resources, and slowing down the nation’s economic activity. This also affects the livelihood of the public to not being able to socialize and having a hard time sustaining financially during the pandemic.
Alwi, S. S. A. R. (2021, June 12). A survey on COVID-19 vaccine acceptance and concern among Malaysians. BMC Public Health. https://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12889-021-11071-6#Tab3
Astro Awani. (2021, August 6). COVID-19 | Isu agihan vaksin secara saksama halangan terbesar. astroawani.com. https://www.astroawani.com/video-malaysia/covid19-isu-agihan-vaksin-secara-saksama-halangan-terbesar-1916914
The Special Committee for Ensuring Access to COVID-19 Vaccine Supply (JKJAV) 2021. (2021, February). National COVID-19 Immunisation Programme. THE SECRETARIAT OF THE SPECIAL COMMITTEE FOR ENSURING ACCESS TO COVID-19 VACCINE SUPPLY (JKJAV). https://www.vaksincovid.gov.my/pdf/National_COVID-19_Immunisation_Programme.pdf