PETALING JAYA: As the National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme is expanded on April 19 to cover non-frontliners, health and communication experts say efforts should be ramped up to address vaccine hesitancy which is still prevalent among the people.
The experts have suggested incentives and transparency as well as engaging local community leaders and general medical practitioners (GPs) to encourage vaccine uptake.
Malaysian Mental Health Association president Prof Datuk Dr Andrew Mohanraj said the core of the vaccination issue lies in building trust, raising awareness as well as putting forward an argument that vaccination is the way towards the eventual return to a pre-pandemic life.
He said putting in the effort to listen to people’s concerns and responding to them in a way that they can understand and identify with is needed.
“The communications should be simple for people to understand and capitalise on trusted scientific information rather than a personal experience or judgment, ” he said.
He also proposed to give incentives to those who are vaccinated such as allowing access to certain places, activities, or even public transport facilities.
Most crucial, said Dr Andrew, was to also recognise the role GPs play in dispelling the bias of doubtful patients.
“GPs play an important role in the lives of their regular patients and their families, thus they need to be given full support in our national vaccination programme, ” he said.
He said that mobilising key stakeholders such as community and local leaders and religious leaders is also important.
“Having famous personalities and celebrities receiving the vaccine could be an effective boost too, ” he added.
Malaysian Medical Association president Prof Datuk Dr M. Subramaniam said transparency and the sharing of vaccine data is just as important to address vaccine hesitancy.
“The government through its Malaysian Adverse Drug Reactions Advisory Committee should publish the most up-to-date data on Adverse Events Following Immunisation, which is already being captured by MySejahtera, ” he said.
Dr Subramaniam said having more vaccination locations and allowing for the vaccination centres to be opened after office hours would also help.
Counsellor Dr Anasuya Jegathevi Jegathesan also said the authorities and health bodies must be transparent with reporting facts on the vaccine.
“When you want to get people’s buy-in for something new, you have to show them the facts, ” said the director of the Centre for Human Excellence and Development at Taylor’s University.
The government, she said, could also consider giving people the choice of vaccines they want.
“The vaccines are fine and side effects are only found in a small percentage of cases. But the public confidence comes when people have some level of choice.
“People might be tired of following the SOP, and feel like they want to rebel against this one thing which they don’t have to do right now, ” she said.
Taylor’s University senior lecturer in media and communication Dr Kho Suet Nie believes that people are hesitant to take the vaccine due to misinformation and disinformation spreading online.
“This is especially so when anti-vaccine groups are actively engaging in fear-mongering and preying on those who are less media-literate, ” she said.
Kho said efforts to combat false information must come from the government and the community collectively.
“Factual news on the vaccine must be presented prominently and rapidly, either via social media or face-to-face education using everyday language. The government must tighten its health communication plan and manage the infodemic.
“The community, too, must be careful and responsible with the information that we share on the vaccine, ” she said.
The second phase of the national immunisation programme will begin on April 19 and involve the elderly, disabled and those with comorbidities.
As of April 6, about 8,154,590 people have registered for the vaccine while 534,191 individuals have been given the first dose, and 328,254 the second.