It scares me how many people are scared of the vaccine

MAY 5 — I spent last weekend waging a war with the national vaccine information website, trying to book an appointment for the controversial AstraZeneca jab. 

Who knew that my experience fighting for concert tickets and sneakers online would come in handy?

It made the aggravating experience tolerable even if I was unwell, as my vertigo had returned the very same morning. 

Was it moral?

Many online called the rush to get a vaccination appointment akin to the Hunger Games though a certain minister wasn't thrilled with the comparison.

Rationally it felt like the only option -- as people were afraid of the vaccine, rather than wasting the doses, the government would just offer it to volunteers while the current immunisation program remains uninterrupted, reliant on other vaccines.

Some argued that the vaccines should have just been made available to the priority groups first and let them first decide whether to take it or not.

However, the dialogue around the vaccine has put it in a bad light, and to be honest, the likelihood of people rejecting it is high enough I wonder if it would stall the immunisation program progression to retain it in the program.

A failure in communication

There is a lot of credible information about the safety of AstraZeneca but the problem is, getting to that information is not as easy for many people.

The mad scramble for vaccines felt extremely dystopian. — YouTube screenshot
The mad scramble for vaccines felt extremely dystopian. — YouTube screenshot

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Take, for instance, the barely usable and much-touted RM70 million setup for the MySejahtera app and vaccine website. The implementation is shoddy enough I doubt it actually even cost a tenth of the price paid.

The app is all over the place and the interface is not intuitive at all. I can imagine anyone who struggles with tech or has a much older smartphone would not have a good experience with the app.

What the app and website should have been were one-stop resources for all Malaysians to keep up not just with the immunisation progress but about the vaccines themselves.

Yes, you can find a brief on the Pfizer and Sinovac vaccine buried somewhere in the app but that is not good enough.

What is happening instead is that people are getting their information based on just reading clickbait headlines and dodgy WhatsApp forwards.

By all accounts (and consulting with more knowledgeable people), the AstraZeneca vaccine is safe and the risk is very, very small. 

Yet all I hear from friends of friends is "Aren't you scared of getting blood clots?"

Accessibility

I ended up having to help a few people register for the dose on Sunday and it is likely because of my fast broadband connection.

That shouldn't have happened. Having access to better technology and infrastructure shouldn't make my health outcomes better.

The pandemic is an emergency and the vaccine needs to get to everyone, not just those in urban areas or with fast internet.

What is most disappointing is that AstraZeneca is a more practical option for rural areas as unlike the Pfizer vaccine, it does not need special storage conditions.

It would be easier to transport as it can survive at normal refrigeration temperatures (2 degrees to 8 degrees Celsius) as opposed to Pfizer's more delicate mRNA vaccines that need to be kept in freezers for longer periods of storage.

Why wait?

The existential anxiety caused by the pandemic has taken a toll on many a person's mental health, mine included.

Talking to a friend, we both summed up that it was a good thing we had addressed our mental health crises when we were much younger, when we wouldn't have to wait too long to get diagnosed or access healthcare.

I just want to get the jab over with. 

Yes, I know I could still get Covid-19 when vaccinated and AstraZeneca isn't quite as effective with the variants as the mRNA vaccines but the vaccine would prevent me from getting hospitalised.

New variants are constantly emerging and besides Pfizer, Moderna and yes, AstraZeneca as well as Johnson & Johnson's vaccines, there is little data that shows the vaccines from China and Russia are as effective against the new variants.

How much longer before a new variant emerges, one even more lethal than the one causing the public health services breakdown in India?

On paper, Pfizer and Moderna might be the better options but right now, with the urgency of the current pandemic, I think AstraZeneca is a safe and effective option.

What comforts me is also knowing that AstraZeneca's efficacy increased after a second dose, with an interval of 12 weeks or more, compared to if the doses were given less than six weeks apart. 

Not having to panic (much) about when my second dose will arrive is a weight taken off my mind especially when I already live in a red zone and people I know have been exposed to the virus.

I hope everyone who can be vaccinated gets vaccinated soon and that our glacial pace picks up.

Cliché or not, no one is safe until everyone is safe so please, if you have the chance to get vaccinated, do it not just for yourself but for everyone around you.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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