By: Dr Mohd Bakri Bakar
The unprecedented impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on all living of individuals, communities and nations needs a collective solution. Now more than ever, we need cooperative action by every side to make the immunisation plan a success through vaccination program.
According to records, we have successfully controlled various vaccine prevention diseases such as polio, tuberculosis, hepatitis B and measles. As of now, the history of our public health records the implementation of another national immunisation plan as a joint effort to curb the spread of COVID-19.
It should be understood; the vaccine will not provide a drastic overall solution. Vaccination program allows us to achieve herd immunity with method that can reduce the risk of infection and death.
As a result, large-scale transmission can be controlled, and the national health system is ensured to remain sustainable as we can also avoid a sudden surge in cases of infection. The target of herd immunity also allows the majority of the community to have immunity and be protected from the causes of disease infection.
Thus, the whole society has a low probability of getting the same infection. Finally, through this ‘protect yourself, protect others’ action, the nationwide COVID-19 transmission chain can be broken.
According to the Malaysia Ministry of Health, at least a period of one year after the start of vaccination is needed to achieve the level of herd immunity. Thus, systematic planning and evaluation is required before, during and after the vaccination program is implemented.
Among the initiatives that need to be intensified throughout the vaccination program is to provide continuous knowledge and understanding to the community. The strengthening of vaccine literacy starts from the responsibility of the government as the decision maker for each vaccination action plan.
Certainly, government practices that centred on transparency and truth can give confidence to the community to mobilise joint efforts. Thus, scientific discoveries and evidenced-based explanations through data proofing must become the compass of every action.
In the early stages, attention to vaccine procurement methods and vaccine acceptance periods has been raised. However, the government action to provide an explanation to the Public Accounts Committee should be commended to ensure that the interests of the community are maintained.
The existence of such a check and balance system, especially at the Parliamentary level, is important to ensure transparency and give confidence to the public. Moreover, this vaccination program requires a lot of international cooperation that is vulnerable to the interests of various parties and requires integrated input.
To date, various series of vaccination information programs have been disseminated by the government through mass media or online platform. Consequently, communication and media expertise need to be further integrated at every level to ensure that any information is conveyed more effectively.
In this context, the language of communication that provides judgment should be avoided. For example, information on the benefits of vaccination should be multiplied rather than citing negative consequences without vaccination. Every public concern about the safety and effectiveness of vaccines should be given an explanation.
The government also needs to clarify the national vaccination plan and action as a whole including involving logistics of storage, transportation and distribution, vaccine delivery facilities and equipment, staff training as well as feedback methods and community relations after receiving the vaccine.
Of course, this effort requires leadership, policy and synergy of operations at various levels of government ministries. It is believed that the establishment of the Special Committee on COVID-19 Vaccine Supply Access Guarantee (JKJAV) and COVID-19 Immunisation Task Force (CITF) will be able to double the coordination efforts required.
It is certain that the public understanding and confidence in vaccination can be enhanced when information is provided by scientists, public health practitioners and researchers. What is important is that they need to convey scientific information regarding vaccination in the form of public communication addressing the diverse understanding of society.
Among the main content is to provide a detailed and clear description of every production process of COVID-19 vaccine from the stage of study, evaluation, clinical phase until it is ready to be given to the community. It is common knowledge that the COVID-19 vaccine is produced in a shorter time than previous vaccine production records.
According to the explanation from the Young Scientists Network-Academy of Sciences Malaysia, this success is due to the total focus on talent resources, facilities and finance in producing the COVID-19 vaccine. In fact, a resolution has also been agreed to give priority to the implementation of the trial process and clinical approval of the vaccine.
Of course, investment in science over the years along with the availability of advanced technology has succeeded in stimulating the progress of vaccine development. Notably at an early stage, the COVID-19 genetic sequence information was shared publicly around the world.
In the national context, the involvement and role of the National Pharmaceutical Regulatory Division (NPRA) needs to be elevated to increase public confidence and prevent vaccine hesitancy. This is because NPRA represents local expertise in analysing all safety and efficacy data, thereby giving any approval to the registration of any COVID-19 vaccine.
Furthermore, the responsibility of the media to provide public health education to the community is also expected. The role of each major media by providing comprehensive information with priority of facts is appreciated. Definitely, the close cooperation of scientists is also needed for successful dissemination of authentic news.
Overall, it must be acknowledged that any initiative that starts with transparency and trust will lead to increased awareness, knowledge and understanding towards achieving vaccine literacy. Subsequently, the right actions and practices will be followed through to support the vaccination program execution.
Dr Mohd Bakri Bakar
Senior Lecture, Faculty of Sciences, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia
ASM Associate and Exco Young Scientists Network, Academy of Science Malaysia (ASM)