The number of Malaysians taking the Covid-19 vaccine booster is still too low.
In Malaysia, boosters are recommended (but not compulsory) for high-risk groups like frontliners, those above 40 years old or those with co-existing diseases like diabetes.
Every day, more clinical evidence and real-world data show that boosters are needed for continuous protection against Covid-19.
The number of countries implementing boosters is also increasing.
Therefore, the government must do everything they can do encourage, educate, motivate, persuade and incentivize more Malaysians to take boosters.
In this article, I hope to persuade you that boosters are good for you by addressing three major myths: that two vaccine doses are enough; that the government is intruding in your freedoms again; and that this is a conspiracy by pharmaceutical companies to make more money.
Unfortunately, two vaccine doses are not enough.
This is proven by many studies that show that our protection against Covid-19 reduces over time (this is called “waning immunity”).
These studies show three main things (although the details depend on your age, strength of your immune system, the type of vaccine you received, whether you are a frontliner, and other factors).
Firstly, these studies show that our levels of antibodies become lower after three to nine months.
Secondly, these studies show that the risk of fully-vaccinated people getting infected with Covid-19 increases with more time after they complete their vaccinations.
Thirdly, these studies show that boosters bring your antibodies back to high levels and reduce your real-world risk of getting infections.
Searching the Internet for “clinical data for boosters” returns 37 million results, and “real-world data for boosters” returns 144 million results.
With this wealth of data, why do people still believe that two vaccine doses are enough?
That is perhaps because of mismatched expectations.
Mismatched expectations occur partially outside a government’s control, like our strong desire to take two vaccine doses and then ask “when can I return to normal life?”.
Governments also contribute to mismatched expectations unintentionally, like the initial education campaign that basically promised “we can return to normal after X% of people are vaccinated”.
This could lead to complacency, or make the average citizen feel like the goalposts have moved and the targets will continually change.
But actually, the goalposts have not moved; it’s just our expectations that need to change.
In other words, we cannot expect the Covid-19 vaccine to be a perfect miracle vaccine with 100% long-term protection after two doses.
Firstly, almost every other vaccine requires three doses, like hepatitis B, diphtheria or polio.
Secondly, our body’s immune system generally works better with more triggers, not less.
For these reasons, a booster dose is not only effective and safe, it follows the science of our immune system and of other vaccines.
To understand this myth, we have to examine the strategies of anti-vaxxer groups.
In the beginning, their strategy was to claim that “the vaccine is unsafe”.
This strategy was proven wrong because the side effects were extremely rare and the benefits were extremely large, especially after more than four billion people have been vaccinated.
Almost everyone now trusts that the vaccines are very safe and that the benefits outweigh the risk.
Now that their first strategy failed, the anti-vaxxers are basically shifting their strategy to “the government is intruding on your personal freedoms”.
The language of anti-vaxxers have changed from focusing on personal safety to focusing on personal freedoms, and even using human rights language to hide their vicious agenda.
This is very irresponsible, unethical, immoral, and possibly even illegal.
This myth is dangerous to yourself and your family, and is also irresponsible to our fellow Malaysians.
This myth is asking us to ignore our basic responsibility to care for our own health, our family’s health and the health of our fellow citizens.
We can learn about the dangers of anti-vaxxers from observing Germany.
The far-right has infiltrated anti-vaxxer groups (which were previously fringe groups), with nationalist or supremacist groups attending anti-vaxxer rallies.
The AfD, a right-wing political party, even campaigned on an anti-vax agenda for the general elections on Sept 26 (2021).
This has contributed to 87% of elderly Germans in intensive care being unvaccinated.
Another country with similar rhetoric of “government intrusion into your freedoms” is Austria.
The far-right Freedom Party and neo-Nazis have also infiltrated the anti-vaxxer movement, partially leading to a surge in hospitalised patients since September (2021).
In response, the Austrian government announced on Nov 19 (2021) that vaccinations will be mandatory beginning February 2022.
Fortunately in Malaysia, our politicians and political parties are not in thrall to the anti-vaxxer groups.
But we cannot be complacent, and the government must continue reassuring the population that this is not a government intrusion, but a life-saving measure.
It is true that selling more vaccines will help pharmaceutical companies make more money.
It is also true that pharmaceutical companies must lower the price as much as possible, must direct vaccine supplies to poor countries equally and must share their patents so we can increase global production of vaccines.
It is also true that our government must eliminate corruption, unnecessary middlemen and wastage.
All that is true.
But that does not mean there is a conspiracy by pharmaceutical companies or governments to make more money from booster doses.
Firstly, our bodies naturally need multiple vaccine doses to maintain protection, and we have known this for decades.
Secondly, the real-world data from Covid-19 booster programmes show that they are necessary for longer-term protection.
And finally, no organisation is competent or large enough to coordinate a global vaccine conspiracy and keep it secret for two years.
The fact is, our immune system just needs a booster.
We may then ask, will we need Round 2 or Round 3 boosters?
Will we need boosters every six months?
Science is not sure of this answer yet, which is why some form of a test (like antibody levels) may be needed to determine if, when and who needs repeated boosters.
Malaysia needs a boost
Most parts of Malaysia are now in Phase 4 of the National Recovery Plan.
We are opening our borders to Singapore via the Vaccinated Travel Lane.
In South-East Asia, Thailand, Singapore and Indonesia are reopening at various speeds.
In four to six months’ time, there could be a requirement to show Booster Status (instead of Vaccination Status) for domestic or international travel.
Perhaps that could be the biggest motivator for us to get boosted.
In the meantime, please do get your booster shot when it’s scheduled for you.
Two doses aren’t enough, the government is not intruding in your freedoms by recommending vaccines, it’s not a conspiracy, and the evidence for boosters is strong.
It was why my 94-year-old grandmother got hers last week, and she was very happy about it.
Dr Khor Swee Kheng is a physician specialising in health policies and global health. He tweets as @DrKhorSK. The views expressed here are entirely his own. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org. The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.