KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 23 — Tackling Covid-19 vaccine hesitancy requires open data and confronting anti-vaxxers directly, Khairy Jamaluddin said.
The health minister attributed the low level of vaccine hesitancy in Malaysia, with 98 per cent of adults having received at least one coronavirus vaccine dose, to the government’s transparency in releasing and communicating Covid-related data.
He pointed out that the Ministry of Health (MOH) does not only release raw data on Covid-19 cases, deaths, and vaccination on the GitHub repository, among the “richest” data globally, but also publishes updates on its tracker website, CovidNow.
“That communication has to continue. I think a large part, due to the fact that once our vaccination rate got past 40, 50 per cent, death rates started dropping and hesitancy of course dropped as well,” Khairy told the virtual Global Town Hall 2021 organised by the Foreign Policy Community of Indonesia last Saturday.
“But the other thing is, you have to go toe-to-toe with the anti-vaxxers. I mean, some people say, ‘just ignore them’, but I think in the spirit of openness and transparency, I gave them the first right of reply.
“I went onto their Facebook pages and I spoke. Of course their counterpoint, when you stop engaging with people, sometimes they’re just irrational. But I think you have to demonstrate to people that you’re willing to go toe to toe, tell them what the science is, what the facts are, and pretty much let the naysayers, the anti-vaxxers, embarrass themselves.”
Khairy also told the international forum that Malaysia uses vaccine passports that only permits fully vaccinated people entry into public places like restaurants and shopping centres.
“If you go to a public institution and you refuse to be vaccinated, you have to do regular tests which you have to pay for.
“So I think we have embraced openness, transparency, data, willing to engage with people, but there has to be some stick as it were that really tells people you should be vaccinated. If you don’t, there will be freedoms that will be denied to you.”
Although nearly all adults in Malaysia have received their primary Covid-19 vaccination, the government is now struggling with high hesitancy towards booster shots, mainly among those who were fully inoculated with Sinovac.