Why Some Elderly Malaysians Aren’t Registering For Covid-19 Shots

Some Malaysians aged above 60 say they will only get Covid-19 vaccination upon advice by their treating physician.

KUALA LUMPUR, March 15 — Just two weeks before senior citizens are eligible to start receiving Covid-19 vaccination, some Malaysians aged above 60 still hesitate to register for their jabs.

CodeBlue interviewed five elderly men and women aged 60 years and above from Selangor, Pahang, Johor, Kedah and Penang to study their trust in Covid-19 vaccines.

Of them, only one person has registered on MySejahtera for coronavirus vaccination, whereas the other four, plus two of their spouses, are still reluctant to register for Covid-19 shots, although they’re generally familiar with the federal government’s application.

Most of the interviewees are also receiving treatment in public health clinics for comorbidities such as high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and high cholesterol. Some told CodeBlue that they would take Covid-19 vaccination upon the advice from their doctors, even if they are initially reluctant.

Vimala Devi, aged 70, said that she did not have any confidence in the Covid-19 vaccine.

“I listen to the news everyday. But I still don’t prefer to take Covid-19 vaccination, be it any vaccines, I don’t want,” Vimala told CodeBlue on March 9.

“My husband and I have other diseases. I think when we go to hospital for our regular check-ups, we will be asked to take the vaccination. Then I won’t have a choice to decline it,” she added, speaking on behalf of her spouse too.

Vimala, who resides in Pahang, stated that she does not use a smartphone, hence she can’t access MySejahtera. However, she emphasised that she follows standard operating procedures (SOPs) whenever she goes out, like wearing a mask, and washing hands frequently.

“We were fine all these years. So this vaccine is not needed for me, now.”

As of March 14, just about 5.5 million people have registered on MySejahtera for Covid-19 vaccination, only 17 per cent of the 32-million population. It is unknown how many of those registered are aged 60 and above.

The government aims to move into Phase Two of the national Covid-19 inoculation drive on April 1, targeting 9.4 million of the population aged above 60 or those with underlying medical conditions. These are the people who are more likely to suffer severe disease or death from Covid-19.

‘My Friends Also Haven’t Registered’

Covid-19 vaccination at University Malaya Medical Centre on March 1, 2021. Picture from Twitter @JKJAVMY.

Liew Noi aged 73 years from Alor Setar, Kedah, said that she hasn’t registered for Covid-19 vaccination yet.

When asked why she has not registered to get the Covid-19 vaccine, the MySejahtera user, with a smile, said: “Not yet lah. All my friends also haven’t registered.”

“See first how the government is approaching us. If everybody should be vaccinated compulsorily, then I also will take the Covid-19 vaccine,” she told CodeBlue.

When asked if she would take the vaccine if the government gave a choice to people to make the decision, Liew said: “No.”

The government currently maintains that it won’t make Covid-19 vaccination mandatory, although the national police chief said recently that police officers would be asked to resign if they refused to take the shot.

Liew, who does not have any other disease, said that she is aware of the dangerous effects of Covid-19 on elderly people.

Decide On Vaccination After Consulting Doctors

Waiting area at a government clinic in Kuala Lumpur. Picture taken by Arjun Thanaraju on 10/01/2020.

Another interviewee, who only wants to be known as Pak Abu, said that he is feeling neutral towards Covid-19 vaccination.

“I don’t have any positive or negative impressions on the vaccine. I am not against the vaccine. I have vaccinated my children. But for this vaccine (Covid-19) I have to ask my doctors first,” Pak Abu told CodeBlue on March 10.

Pak Abu, a 65-year-old man from Johor, has comorbidities like high blood pressure and diabetes. He said that he is undergoing treatment at the Batu Pahat public health clinic in Johor and will follow advice from the doctors treating him there.

“Malaysia won’t approve non-halal vaccines. So, I am not doubtful about the vaccine from a religious point of view,” Pak Abu added.

“My wife and I will first consult with the doctors and will decide.”

‘Daughter Helped Me Register On MySejahtera’

Pushpam Palanisamy from Petaling Jaya. Picture courtesy of Pushpam Palanisamy.

Pushpam Palanisamy, a 64-year-old resident of Petaling Jaya, confidently said that she is ready to take Covid-19 vaccine to protect herself from being exposed to the coronavirus.

“My daughter helped me to register the vaccine in MySejahtera application,” Pushpam told CodeBlue on March 14.

“Actually I prefer to take the Pfizer vaccine. But I don’t mind taking other vaccines.”

The National Pharmaceutical Regulatory Agency (NPRA) has given conditional registration for emergency use of the Pfizer-BioNTech, AstraZeneca-Oxford University, and China’s Sinovac Covid-19 vaccines in Malaysia.

According to Health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah, the Covid-19 vaccines that receive NPRA’s conditional registration are safe and effective, and benefits outweigh the risks.

“No one is safe till everyone is safe. I am seeing this whole process as my responsibility to keep the country safe,” Pushpam said.

“It has been a year since I went out. I want a vaccine to resume my old life.”

Pushpam Palanisamy, Petaling Jaya resident

Pushpam said that she will not trust all the messages that she is receiving on WhatsApp regarding Covid-19 and will check for the authenticity of the news with her son or daughter.

“I trust the vaccines. A vaccine is important to protect us, especially people who have other diseases like diabetes or heart diseases.”

Pushpam is receiving treatment for diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol in the Taman Medan public health clinic.

At Current Pace, Seven Months To Vaccinate Elderly

Public health expert Dr Lokman Hakim Sulaiman stated that the Covid-19 vaccination process should pick up speed for the elderly.

“After 18 days only, 275,851 jabs have been injected, equivalent to 500,000 jabs a month. This is only the first dose,” Dr Lokman posted on Facebook on March 13.

The former Heath deputy director-general (public health) mentioned that with this pace of vaccination, it will take seven months to inoculate 3.5 million people above 60 years old in Malaysia.

“Are we not going to complete vaccination for them by August? Maybe not. After vaccinating frontliners, they can focus on this priority group. At least I hope so,” he stated.

Dr Lokman emphasised that elderly people should be vaccinated by August this year. It is to be noted that the government targets to inoculate 80 per cent of the population before December 31 to achieve herd immunity towards the coronavirus.

The National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme is targeting to vaccinate 500,000 frontliners with the first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine by March 31. The second phase for high-risk groups like the elderly and people with comorbidities is scheduled to run from April to August. Phase Three will begin in May and go on parallelly with Phase Two.

Not Ready To Get Vaccinated

A 75-year-old woman from Penang said that she is not ready to take Covid-19 vaccination in any situation.

“I don’t have any other diseases. I think with the right food, we can avoid any diseases,” the woman told CodeBlue on condition of anonymity on March 10.

“Covid-19 is a type of flu. I trust my traditional herbs more like cumin seeds, holy basils (known as thulasi among Indians), black pepper to get well from a flu.”

The John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health stated that Covid-19 is not a flu merely as it has killed more people globally compared to influenza. Covid-19 has severe health impacts, including damage in other organs, that mostly would not occur for the flu.

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