PETALING JAYA: The slow pace of Malaysians registering their interest in getting vaccinated against Covid-19 via the MySejahtera app is concerning, and lawmakers are fingering misinformation as the culprit.
They said a lack of clarity and awareness, as well as scepticism, were among the challenges faced in dispelling misinformation on Covid-19 vaccines and getting more to register for immunisation.
As of Monday, only 6.1% of the population or 1,468,137 people had registered for the vaccine, with the target being 80% to achieve the much-needed herd immunity.
Works Minister Datuk Seri Fadillah Yusof said he closely monitors what he receives on his messaging app groups for misinformation on the vaccine.
“I notice that people are quick to believe fake and controversial news instead of cross-checking it with multiple verified sources.
“It is my role as a Cabinet minister and an MP to combat such lies by sharing accurate information with them,” he said when contacted.
Fadillah, who is also Petra Jaya MP, also suggested the media refrain from using “misleading headlines” on Covid-19 vaccines as this could push people away from getting immunised.
For his part, Jelebu MP Datuk Seri Jalaluddin Alias said a lot of misinformation is being spread by anti-vaxxers who say taking the vaccine is a waste of time.
“Check with official government platforms if you come across viral news that you are not sure of,” he said.
He added that it was also crucial for the authorities to provide accurate and clear information that reaches the public.
Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Adham Baba said despite a rise in Covid-19 related fake news, he believes the public is knowledgeable enough to cross-check the information they receive.
“Local media also have a big role to play as they are vital in helping the government fight fake news,” he added.
He said his ministry is working closely with the media to immediately inform the public of fake news on the vaccines, and warned that reports would be lodged with the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission and the police against those spreading such content.
Petaling Jaya MP Maria Chin Abdullah said that accurate information on the vaccines must reach the ground to counter distrust.
“Don’t just rely on television, radio and social media because not everyone has access to them.
“Use traditional means also, such as vans with loudhailers to make announcements, especially where people gather like malls, pasar malam and pasar pagi (night and morning markets),” she said.
She said she put up banners on Sunday to help constituents in Taman Medan sign up for the vaccine.
“We did on-the-spot registrations and helped register over 400 people during the event,” she added.
Maria Chin also suggested making it easier for a family member to register the entire household for the vaccination through MySejahtera.
“Not everyone such as the elderly, dependents or the less fortunate have smartphones.
“Make it easier to register through the app and I am sure we will be able to hit our 80% target,” she said.
PKR’s Setiawangsa lawmaker Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad said misinformation on vaccines was coming from both anti-vaxxers and individual sceptics.
“Some have taken the headlines of deaths during vaccine trials without reading the whole story in detail,” he added.
Nik Nazmi suggested the government rope in celebrities and religious leaders to help build public confidence in the vaccines.
“Like how (the late) Elvis Presley was used in polio vaccination in the United States. This was done to convince the sceptics,” he added.
Kota Melaka MP Khoo Poay Tiong said the lack of information on the vaccines has led to fear and uncertainty among members of the public.
“Fake news and misinformation only make it worse.
“I held a live Facebook session with Bandar Kuching MP Dr Kelvin Yii last month and we answered a lot of questions that were raised, such as on safety and the current rollout plan,” he said.
Khoo, who took the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine on Tuesday, said he has come across instances involving members of the public disputing the safety of certain types of vaccines.
“I encountered an elderly uncle who told me that he will only take the vaccine from China while another said that vaccines from China cannot be trusted.
“I told them that we should rely on scientific data instead of irrational perceptions,” he added.
The National Immunisation Programme was launched on Feb 21 with Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin being the first to be vaccinated.