The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the global economy and public health on an unprecedented scale in modern times. Many countries, including Malaysia, are currently grappling with recurring waves of the virus resurgence while also racing to vaccinate the mass population as fast as possible to induce herd immunity.
In its simplest form, a vaccine is defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as a product that stimulates an immune response that triggers your body to produce natural immunity to a specific disease, which in this case is COVID-19. While the concept of vaccination is not new given its proven effectiveness in eradicating smallpox and polio diseases, the hesitancy towards vaccination has risen over the years.
A recent survey conducted by the International Federation of Red Cross (IFRC) found that although a majority of Malaysians (56.51%) answered ‘Yes’ to getting vaccinated against COVID-19, there is a substantial portion of people who answered ‘Maybe’ (32.66%), ‘No’ (6.42%) and ‘Don’t Know’ (4.4%).
The question then arises; If vaccination is the solution to COVID-19, why the hesitancy?
To answer this, we used Adqlo, our social media intelligence platform, to crawl the comments and hashtags of posts specifically relating to vaccination in Malaysia. We narrowed down our scope by analysing the comment section of several local news outlets’ Facebook and Instagram accounts, which were selected based on the frequency of coverage regarding the vaccine issue, as well as specific Twitter hashtags used to advocate for vaccination in Malaysia.
- Astro Awani
- Malay Mail
- The Star
- News Straits Times
- Free Malaysia Today
- Sin Chew
Do Malaysians want to be vaccinated?
The results of our crawl show a majority of positive responses, being ‘pro-vaccine’. However it should not be discounted that there is still quite a substantial percentage of respondents who are anti-vaccine.
Despite the obvious and only long-term solution to combat the spread of COVID-19, vaccine hesitancy is the biggest challenge encountered by Malaysia and many more countries who are striving to achieve herd immunity. Key factors attributed to this include the following:
1) Lack of information or misinformation on the dangers of COVID-19
- Our crawl found that a large part of hesitancy is attributed to lack of knowledge which accounts for 68.71% of the results.
- The severity of misinformation regarding COVID-19 was rampant enough that Malaysia enacted a new law on the spread of ‘fake news’ as a means to control its spread.1
2) Religious beliefs or misinterpretations
- 18.39% believed that the vaccines went against religious beliefs
- Given Malaysia’s culturally diverse composition, there are dominant races, namely the Malays, who coined the vaccination exercise as “Agenda Yahudi” where they push the narrative that microchips are being inserted into them via the vaccine to control and drive them further away from religion.
- Other religious attributes also include doubts whether the vaccine is ‘halal’ or contain substances that go against religious rulings.
3) Misinformation on vaccines and its side effects
- Governing misinformation and enforcing the spread of correct vaccine-related information attributed to 10.65% of the results of our crawl.
- From conspiracy theories claiming that the COVID-19 vaccine is a tracking device used to control or spy on the population, to its ability to alter the human DNA, vaccine misinformation introduces fear and exacerbates hesitancy among the general population.2
4) Age group
- A minority percentage (2.26%) of the crawl results found age group to be a contributing factor to overall hesitancy
- Hesitancy also appears to increase with age groups with many fearing the side-effects of the vaccine as well as the effectiveness against old age.3
Initiatives to Promote Vaccination
The key ingredient to a successful vaccination drive is shared understanding and awareness of the importance of vaccines in curbing the spread of COVID-19. With growing efforts to promote vaccine accessibility to minority groups, remote settlements, and people with disabilities, every Malaysian plays a role in spreading awareness on the benefits of getting vaccinated. Let us all play our part in keeping each other safe and holding everyone accountable for their role in curbing the spread of COVID-19.
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