Vaccine, yes! But SOPs must go on

The start of vaccination does not mean stopping following coronavirus norms of social distancing and wearing masks. We must vow: “Yes to vaccine, yes to caution.”

– Narendra Modi, Indian Prime Minister

Finally! The long-awaited first batch of 312,390 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine arrived onboard Flight MH604, bearing the Jalur Gemilang livery, in Kuala Lumpur yesterday.

The arrival of the vaccine kick-starts the National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme — initially scheduled for Feb 26 but now brought forward by two days to Feb 24 — the largest vaccination programme ever in the country.

I have a confession to make. When Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyuddin Yassin recently announced the start of the vaccination programme this week, I was a bit apprehensive about the vaccine’s safety and planned not to take the jab at all.

However, I had a change of heart when my chief minister was prepared to roll up his sleeve and be the first person to get vaccinated in a few days from now to prove to his people that the vaccine is safe.

That’s what leadership is all about; Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg is taking the lead to dispel the scepticism and apprehension surrounding the vaccine. He has given me, and perhaps many other sceptical Sarawakians, the courage to take the jab.

I have also taken the initiative to search the internet for more information about the vaccines manufactured by different pharmaceuticals and my efforts paid off as I have now gotten over the initial apprehension.

I will sign up for the immunisation programme when registration opens next month. Many others will follow suit, I believe.

The apprehension is largely due to the absence of convincing assurance from and lack of aggressive publicity and educational campaigns by the authorities and leaders, especially the tuai rumah and ketua kampung.

Other than the usual news write-ups, information and publicity materials from medical authorities and other related agencies about the vaccine were hardly visible, or if there were any, very minimal.

Politicians, medical and health officials as well as relevant agencies must band together to fight misinformation on the vaccine and anti-vaccination propaganda if we are to contain Covid-19.

We cannot afford to take the dangers of misinformation lightly as they are a setback to the progress that we have made to minimise the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

Social media is partly to blame for the unending streams of misinformation and inaccuracies. Numerous studies have found that anti-vaccination propaganda on social media has increased vaccine hesitancy.

And what’s the motive behind this misinformation campaign?

Recently at the 31st Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly, Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin put it aptly, “The chief motive for this campaign? To mislead and undermine trust in medicine when it matters most, and ultimately prolonging this pandemic. Misinformation costs lives, especially as we are preparing national vaccination plans for our people.

“Negativity as an outcome of the propaganda must be addressed head-on. It would be a tragedy, if, in our eagerness, dangerous supporters who campaign against the whole concept of vaccination are left to flourish — risking damaging influence on the masses, and threatening millions more lives.”

There is a lot of misinformation about the Covid-19 vaccine. One which I find amusing is that it will change one’s DNA.

The fact is, according to medical experts, there is nothing in the vaccine that could affect a person’s genetic makeup. There is no DNA of any kind in the vaccine. Apart from helping us build immunity to Covid-19, the vaccine doesn’t change us in any way.

Another unfounded fear is the ineffectiveness of the vaccine as it was developed at “lightning speed” as claimed by naysayers. Vaccines take about seven to 10 years to develop.

True, the vaccine was developed quickly; that’s because of the worldwide efforts of scientists exchanging information and research materials.

There are two other reasons for the speed. The first was the urgency; second, producers and scientists dropped everything to develop a vaccine.

The vaccine went through careful clinical trials and findings show it is effective and safe.

There is also the fear that the vaccine will cause infertility.

Now, World Health Organisation experts have said the vaccine does not cause infertility as there is no evidence at all to that effect.

There is no reason for Sarawakians to doubt the safety of the vaccine. The Ministry of Health (MOH) has given its approval and certified it effective.

The national immunisation programme is divided into three phases. The first phase is scheduled for Feb 24 to April for frontline personnel, including the police, army and medical staff.

The second phase, from April to August, is for senior citizens aged 60 and above and vulnerable groups with morbidity issues.

And the final phase is from May to February 2022 for those aged 18 and above.

In conclusion, we need to be mindful of the fact that the immunisation programme is not a passport to discard the numerous SOPs introduced by our government to contain the pandemic. Carry on with the SOPs!