KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 13 — Some Malaysians say they do not see the need for a second booster dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, as infections have yet to surge in the country.
In order to gain insight into public opinion on Covid-19 vaccine boosters, CodeBlue interviewed 12 members of the public in Quill Mall at Kuala Lumpur. Additionally, two members of the public answered an online questionnaire from CodeBlue.
Participants comprised a multiracial group with members from both sexes, ranging from 20 to 50 years of age. All of them stated that they had completed their first booster dose of the Covid-19 vaccine.
Having taken three doses, the majority were not too eager to offer up their arms for a fourth shot, citing two main reasons: post-vaccination side effects and the currently low number of new Covid-19 cases in Malaysia.
However, all of them held that they would take the second booster dose if cases begin to rise.
“If it’s not compulsory, I won’t do it because we (myself and my family) experienced some side effects, like after the vaccine and the booster and all this every time. Especially me. I don’t experience fever and all those. Like body ache, maybe once a day, that’s fine. But my experience, I feel like dizziness for two, three weeks so I can’t function well,” Tan Sue Lynn, who turns 50 this year, told CodeBlue.
“For us, we are not against it, but if the government does not make it compulsory, I don’t think we will do it.”
Tan has completed her primer dose of the vaccine and has taken the first booster, but the symptoms she experienced after each and every shot of the vaccine, and then contracting Covid after her vaccinations, have made her hesitant to take the second booster.
When asked about her views on allowing travellers from China to enter Malaysia, she said that she thought it was necessary that they be allowed to travel to Malaysia for the sake of the economy, but that they “shouldn’t come in freely” and that pre-departure testing ought to be done.
“I think for the sake of economics and others, we also understand about that, but we need not only Chinese tourists, we need other tourists to come to Malaysia, but I think it should be done, like pre-departure tests and other requirements. They should do that at least as first prevention,” said Tan.
“They shouldn’t come in freely if they (Malaysia) do not implement the quarantine or whatever after arriving. So I think they should have requested, like previously, when we want to travel somewhere else, they will request us to do Covid tests and all these before we can depart or get into the flight. So I think that should be in place. That (the lack of testing) makes people worry actually.
“What we can do is, I think, mask back and others have to wear back the mask, and I think that because I take public transport to work. I take LRT. But sometimes in the train also, I see some people without masks. I feel very annoyed, and I thought that that is compulsory. The ruling is there, but the implementation is not there.
“I feel very stressed, especially with the people that you do not know,” she said.
The Malaysian government has decided not to implement travel restrictions like pre-departure tests for visitors from China. Health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah reportedly said that the Immigration Department will provide special lanes for travellers arriving from China, who will be tested for Covid-19 with antigen RTK if they show symptoms.
This sentiment of pre-departure testing was also held by Yong Shiuri, a sexologist working in Kuala Lumpur.
“They have to. No matter we go to other country or they come to our country, there’s an inquiry. I mean, we need to do the test before we fly away, right? Why Malaysia will be the exception?” she said, after being informed of the lack of testing requirements.
The 32-year-old said that she is going to take the second booster dose of the vaccine in preparation for the arrival of tourists from China.
“I’m going to take it for self-protection and at the same time, protect my family. But when it comes to vaccine, it’s just like boost up the immune system, not because of avoid Covid. For me it’s kind of like, ‘Ooh, sounds like can protect and strengthen up my immune system’.”
Shukry Khalid, a manager who has had three doses of the Covid-19 vaccine, stated that he is in no rush to take a fourth shot as he believes he has developed immunity, thanks to the first three doses.
“No, because I already took the first booster. So I think that the immunity is there,” he said.
Apart from immunity, Shukry was also a little vaccine hesitant as he had experienced some negative side effects from the vaccine, and he does not see the vaccine as a sustainable way of supporting the immune system.
“I can see after taking the first booster, my body, I feel like different. I’m not sure if it’s really the side effects or not, but basically, in terms of energy and then the breathing, I can see the difference. So, I only prefer the first booster. Second booster…maybe have to wait first,” he told CodeBlue.
“So when we talk about the vaccine, I don’t think the vaccine can continuously support our immune system because the variants actually can change. So different variants might need different vaccines. So it can be like second booster, third booster until when? It’s the time where our body has to build our own immune system now by taking care of lifestyle, the diet, nutritious food all that, rather than depending on the vaccines.”
Government Should Make Covid-19 Vaccination Mandatory
On the other end of the spectrum is Josie Wong, a 28-year-old who is currently living in Subang Jaya. Wong has completed her primer dose and has also taken both boosters, and she believes that the government should make the vaccine mandatory for everyone.
“I am the opposite of vaccine hesitant. I have plenty of personal experiences that prove to me that the virus is way more dangerous than the possible dangers of the vaccine. If there are more vaccines in the future, I will take it after I have done my research. Nobody else, government or not, has influenced my decision. In fact, I believe the government should make the vaccine mandatory for everyone.”
Wong stated in a written response to CodeBlue that she had taken the vaccines as she believed that it would protect her from Covid.
“Also, my father had passed away due to Covid as the lack of oxygen resulted in kidney failure. Moreover, my experience with Covid was not the best as I have experienced the worst sore throat and fever in my life. My husband was nearly admitted to the hospital as he could not breathe properly due to excessive phlegm and sore throat. Both of us had both our vaccines and first booster at that time.”
Like with other respondents interviewed by CodeBlue, Wong too feels that people must be more responsible when it comes to dealing with Covid-19 and that laws must be enforced to protect people.
“Ultimately, I believe people hold the responsibility of the wellbeing of themselves and others. With that said, I believe people should not go out when they have been exposed to covid under any circumstances and I think this is where the laws should enforce that. Unknowingly, they may kill someone else due to their selfishness.
“To summarise, yes, borders should be opened, but laws should be enforced to those who have Covid and go out. This is to prevent the virus from spreading further and to prevent deaths of the vulnerable.”
According to KKMNow statistics, only half of Malaysia’s total population have taken their first Covid-19 booster dose, and only 2 per cent their second booster.
Klang Valley booster coverage is higher than the national average. Across Selangor, Kuala Lumpur, and Putrajaya, about 70 per cent have been vaccinated with their first booster dose, and 4.5 per cent their second booster.
According to the KKMNow website, daily confirmed Covid-19 cases have begun plateauing since January 1, hovering at 460 cases on a seven-day average last January 11. Hospital admissions, ventilated Covid-19 patients, and Covid-19 patients in intensive care have been declining since early last month.
Experts from the Ministry of Health (MOH) said last Tuesday that protection from a third Sinovac vaccine dose against hospitalisation or death from Covid-19 wanes faster than a Pfizer booster shot after primary inoculation with Sinovac.
Nationwide, first and second booster vaccination rates have been climbing since late last month.
MOH recommends a second mRNA booster dose for all adults aged 18 and above six months after the first.