NGOs to change minds of anti-vax Penans

Uggah (centre) at a briefing in Miri.

MIRI: Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) will be roped in to convince anti-vaccine Penans in Ulu Baram to get vaccinated against Covid-19.

The State Disaster Management Committee (SDMC) will also enlist the help of elected representatives in the area.

Said Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah Embas, who heads SDMC: “We now have a ready supply of the CanSino vaccine. This single dose vaccine is a good option for them and our medical personnel will be in the area soon.”

Uggah said this after attending a Health Department briefing on the Miri Division Covid-19 booster dose and adolescent vaccination programme at the Curtin University campus here today (Oct 19).

Transport Minister Datuk Seri Lee Kim Shin and Miri Division Health officer Dr Raviwharmman Packierisamy were among those present.

Uggah was earlier briefed of the Penan community’s resistance to the vaccination drive Dr Raviwharmman who revealed that the Miri Health Department had on six occasions attempted to coax the Penans into taking the jabs.

“We have tried through government officers, elected representatives, influential members of the community, NGOs and religious bodies to persuade them but to no avail.

“While they have no issue with normal medical treatments or procedures, they freeze out and reject the jab. They will even disappear into the deep jungle when our vaccination teams arrive.

“This situation remains one of our main challenges in our vaccination rollout programme,” he said, while noting that the Penans were unlike those in Belaga district in the Kapit Division.

On that note, Uggah agreed to a suggestion by Dr Raviwharmman for a voluntary medical team led by doctors from the Health Department, including those who had retired, to visit these settlements.

“The team will go to the interior region to give medical and dental treatment for a few days. They have developed close rapport with the locals and have also gained their trust,” Uggah said.

Dr Raviwharmman said his department could supply the CanSino vaccine.

Uggah said former state health director Datuk Dr Chin Zin Hing revealed the next visit by the medical team would begin on Nov 1 and funding has been set aside by the state government for the team to assist the Penans financially.

On another matter, Uggah, who is the Deputy Chief Minister, said plans were being considered to get qualified frontliners who are not medical personnel to receive either the booster shot or third dose of the vaccine.

He said like doctors, nurses and other medical personnel, these frontliners deserved to get their immune system enhanced.

“They are after all handling the people as well, and we must also protect them,” he added.