Enhancing trust in the vaccine


Photo: AZHAR MAHFOF/The Star

PRIME Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin received the first dose of the Pfizer-BioNtech Covid-19 vaccine on Wednesday, signalling the start of Malaysia’s largest inoculation programme. One of the significant considerations about getting 80% of the Malaysian population vaccinated will be building trust and understanding to address concerns about the vaccine, especially one produced on an accelerated timeline.

Understand and inform public expectations about vaccine benefits, risks and supply: Much is still unknown about what the public knows, believes and fears about the vaccine, and how that may change over time.

The government should fund state and local health departments, via the Institute of Public Health, to form partnerships with grassroots organisations, healthcare practitioners and other stakeholders to engage early and often with communities about vaccination.

Earn the public’s confidence that vaccine allocation and availability are even-handed: The current social climate necessitates, more than ever, both a fair vaccination campaign and widespread public recognition of its fairness.

The government should publicly pledge that everyone who wants to be vaccinated will receive a dose. Moreover, with stakeholder and public feedback, the government should continuously reassess its vaccine allocation and targeting strategy to boost public confidence that decision-making is neither capricious nor unjustly weighted in favour of any one group of people.

Make vaccination available in safe, familiar and convenient places: Making vaccines widely available and accessible will entail public health authorities preparing to meet communities – particularly vulnerable populations – where they are.

State and local health officials should develop vaccine delivery approaches that incorporate locations that are easy to access and also safe for medically and socially vulnerable groups.

Communicate in meaningful, relevant, and personal terms to effectively counter misinformation: A profusion of true and false information now circulates about the Covid-19 pandemic, making it hard to sort out the correct health information and confirm its veracity. At the same time, scientific facts do not motivate most people to act.

To enable a successful vaccination promotion campaign, the government should sponsor rapid efforts for public-stakeholder engagement, formative research and message development.

Establish independent representative bodies to instil a sense of public ownership of the vaccination programme: Governance structures for the vaccination programme that incorporate public oversight and community involvement have the potential to inspire greater public confidence in, and a sense of ownership over, this vital public health intervention.

Each state should establish a public oversight committee to review and report on vaccination systems, ensuring that allocation is fair, that target groups receive the vaccine, and underserved populations disproportionately affected during the pandemic are justly attended to.

R. MURALI RAJARATENAM , Kuala Lumpur

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