KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 24 — Bandar Kuching MP Dr Kelvin Yii proposed public education, with punishment only as a last resort, to counter misinformation on Covid-19 vaccines.
The Sarawakian lawmaker said there is no need to incarcerate health care professionals who spread misinformation on coronavirus vaccines, as they can be reported to the Malaysian Medical Council (MMC) instead to suspend their practicing licences.
“My personal stand is punishment should be the last resort,” Dr Yii told a webinar jointly organised by the Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy and Research for Social Advancement (Refsa) last night.
He stressed the importance of Covid-19 vaccine public education in various languages, after revealing his experience with the Orang Asli community in Cameron Highlands.
“They were really hesitant towards vaccination because of bad experience — they felt it caused miscarriages and infertility. So we really need to educate them and bring it to their level and culture,” said Dr Yii.
“In Sarawak, the tuai rumah or ketua kampung, they play a very important role to spread the right messages with these people. In order to convince the tuai rumah, we need to speak their language. That’s why state governments, all of society, must be roped into awareness and confidence campaigns.”
Consultant respiratory physician Dr Helmy Haja Mydin, who also spoke at the same webinar, said any action taken on people who spread misinformation about Covid-19 vaccines should differ, depending on whether they are ordinary citizens or medical professionals.
“A doctor has the responsibility of going by evidence, not just giving an opinion,” said Dr Helmy.
“Individuals, I feel, have every right to choose whether or not he or she takes the vaccine, but that’s very different from a professional going around spreading fake news.”
Some medical doctors and non-government organisations (NGOs) in Malaysia have been propagating vaccine scepticism, especially towards mRNA vaccines.
Health Minister Dr Adham Baba recently told CodeBlue that the government would take action under the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act against people who “campaign” against Covid-19 vaccination. But he didn’t specify if this included people who simply share negative opinions about coronavirus vaccines on social media.
A CodeBlue survey among more than 800 health care providers from both the public and private sectors found that 5 per cent rejected Covid-19 vaccination and 6 per cent were unsure, leaving about 89 per cent who were fine with getting inoculated.
Consultant paediatrician Dr Musa Mohd Nordin said hardcore anti-vaxxers numbered about 1,500 in Malaysia, and that about 10 to 15 per cent of people are vaccine-hesitant.
“They are on the fence. These are the ones I take a lot of my time to try and convince. At the end of the day, if you are rational, you tell good stories, you can bring them on board,” he told the webinar.
Dr Musa expressed his harsh stance against doctors and nurses who refuse to get vaccinated against Covid-19, saying: “If they make it public, no mercy.”