Knowledge gap causes vaccine hesitancy

The gaps are currently being filled by anti-vaccine campaigners who are spreading misinformation regarding the Covid-19 vaccines


KPJ Selangor Specialist Hospital consultant paediatrician and paediatric cardiologist Prof Datuk Dr Zulkifli Ismail said vaccine hesitancy among the public is due to knowledge gaps between government agencies, NGOs and the public.

He added that the gaps are currently being filled by anti-vaccine campaigners who are spreading misinformation regarding the Covid-19 vaccines, causing hesitation and unwillingness to vaccinate.

“While staunch anti-vaxxers are not many, they are loud and can potentially exert significant influence on the larger group of hesitant individuals.

“And because of the lack of information and transparency between the government and the public, there is an increase in trust deficit issues among people, leading to a decrease in vaccine confidence,” he said in a virtual media roundtable session of “Covid19 Vaccines and Public Hesitancy” yesterday.

Vaccination is deemed to be one of the most cost-effective ways of avoiding disease, in which it currently prevents two to three million deaths a year, and a further 1.5 million deaths could be avoided if global coverage of vaccinations is improved.

Dr Zulkifli said the Ministry of Health (MoH) conducted a survey on vaccine acceptance in December last year and approximately, 67% of the respondents were willing to take the vaccine.

However, 17% were unsure and the remaining 16% refused, with fear of side effects, uncertainty over vaccine efficacy and safety concerns being the main reasons for hesitancy.

He added that the reasons also include trust in the system that delivers them, the reliability and competence of the health services and professionals, and motivations of the policymakers who decide on the needed vaccines.

“So, what we want to emphasise here is that no matter if a person is young, old, fit or diseased, everyone is encouraged to take the vaccine.

“As long as you are above 18 and if your comorbidities such as diabetes and hypertension are well-controlled at the time you get the vaccine, then it should be okay,” he said.

Meanwhile, Putrajaya Hospital consultant physician and nephrologist Dr Rafidah Abdullah said there is no head-to-head comparison on which type of Covid-19 vaccine is better and effective now.

She added that people should take any vaccine that is offered at the moment because the most important aspect that should be considered is whether the vaccine could keep us well and prevent hospitalisation and admission into intensive care units (ICUs).

“If we don’t get vaccinated, we will not be able to protect our families and these are the ones that will end up in ICUs as we are seeing on a daily basis.

“Especially for patients with comorbidities, their survival is not good. So, if you have chronic diseases, all the more reasons that you have to be vaccinated,” she said.

Dr Rafidah acknowledged that the government should consider speeding up the vaccine registration process and get people vaccinated as soon as possible.

“We need to get ourselves vaccinated very quickly because there are a lot of news reports of Covid-19 mutations lately. So, if we are too slow, mutations will arise and pose more problems,” she added.

Speaking on the issue of reinfections after getting Covid-19 vaccine, Public Health Medicine specialist and Selangor Task Force Covid-19 director Prof Dr Farhan Rusli said the reinfections could absolutely happen because the Covid-19 vaccine is not a cure-all.

He noted that from a public health perspective, the vaccine is only a preventive measure and regardless of whether someone received the vaccine or not, the standard operating procedures (SOPs) for Covid-19 will still remain.

“What we are seeing lately is that a lot of people who have received vaccines feel that they are superhuman, which is not the case.

“Same concept for Covid-19. We are trying to reduce the risk of getting severe forms of disease and transmission. This is something that people should know because vaccines are definitely not a cure,” he noted.

Dr Farhan said in terms of reactions and adverse effects, people have to understand that every individual reacts differently to vaccines and all individuals do not have the same DNAs.

He opined that this is another misconception among people, as the side effects are just a big compilation of reactions and issues experienced by people in different time, place and scenarios.

“What’s important for now is different levels of society playing a responsible role in this pandemic. We cannot just be complying with SOPs without getting tested or vaccinated and vice versa. It comes in a complete package,” he explained.