Anti-Vaxxers — Why?
The epitome of “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” cannot be emphasised any further by this current pandemic. Plagues have historically been a tragedy for humanity. Many lives were lost in the process of healing from the epidemic since a cure could not be developed in time due to the lack of knowledge in medical sciences. Fortunately for us, technological advancements have made it easier to locate a cure today, and our superheroes — scientists — have just about proven the theory once again. Instead of dancing in the streets with joy and lining up to get the vaccine, some were hesitant and sceptical. This article goes on to discuss the anti-vaxxers’ “Whys.” Why do they deny the science underpinning vaccine development? Why are they more inclined to believe myths that contradict vaccines? Why are they doubtful of the vaccines? Why are they so anti-vaccine?
Myths and Conspiracy Theories: Misinformation on Media Platforms
The media has a significant impact on how people think and believe. While the media appears to be a powerful source of information, it does not always disseminate accurate information. Everyone wants to go viral nowadays, even if it means spreading fallacies. In this sense, the media has once again proven to be humanity’s demise by propagating false information about the COVID-19 virus and vaccination. People spent months in lockdown browsing through their social media accounts, be it Instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp, TikTok, or any other comparable platforms, where they were probably fed myths about the virus. This appears to be the biggest factor that has contributed to the rise of anti-vaxxers. What these people don’t realise is that information acquired on the internet isn’t always accurate, and the credibility, authenticity, and legitimacy of a certain message isn’t assured.
Some of the most common fallacies regarding the virus include a so-called “cure” involving hot water, onions, and neem leaves. When the first wave of the pandemic hit us, our then Health Minister, Datuk Seri Dr Adham Baba, urged people to drink warm water to “flush” the virus down to the stomach, where the digestive acids would kill the infection, in an interview on RTM’s Bicara Naratif programme on March 19, 2020. Dr Nur Amalina Che Bakri, a Malaysian surgeon currently residing in the UK, questioned the authenticity of his statement after it went viral on social media platforms, claiming that there is no proof to back up his assertions. However, she stated that while drinking water is beneficial as it keeps us hydrated, it does not “inactivate the virus in any manner.” On the other hand, mothers, or rather, ‘aunties’ on WhatsApp, were fed information that onions and neem leaves can ‘kill’ the virus. Signal Singh, a social media influencer, stated in a video that his mother learned about neem leaves being able to kill the virus on her WhatsApp account and hung some on her front door. The irony isn’t lost on the audience, even if the video’s objective was to infuse humour. The older generation is more prone to believing everything they read on their Facebook page or in their WhatsApp chat regardless of whether there is factual evidence, study, or research done on the subject.
Myths and conspiracy theories on the COVID-19 vaccines are prevalent at this point. A simple Google search on ‘why we shouldn’t receive the vaccine’ would bring up hundreds of websites debunking various vaccine myths and theories. The most famous theory of all: Bill Gates tracking humanity by implanting microchips into their bodies using the COVID vaccine. This is simply an assumption made based on years of unfounded misrepresentation of Bill Gates’ vaccine advocacy activities as attempts to impose a worldwide surveillance system on the world’s inhabitants. Similar microchip theories involve the government attempting to track humans’ every move by embedding GPS trackers in the vaccines. Anti-vaxxers are also convinced that, in a few years, the immunisations of the vaccine will transform humans into zombies. Abdul Alim Muhammad, also known as ‘mukifuad’ on Instagram, posted a video detailing the theory in greater detail. In his video, he alleges that the mRNA isn’t a true vaccine, but rather a “computer operating system” meant to hijack the body’s cellular machinery and manufacture the COVID virus. Other more basic theories include the vaccine altering human DNA, causing infertility, and the vaccines containing preservatives. More information on these theories can be read on this website.
These theories get even more interesting as we dig deeper. The placebo effect is mentioned in some of the most unusual theories. It’s a theory predicated on the idea that there’s no such thing as a true vaccine. It’s essentially just a placebo that’s being shot into us. It trains our minds to believe that there is a true vaccine that works, causing our bodies to naturally fight against the virus. Another intriguing notion is that vaccines can modify human DNA, rendering the genes that are designed to prevent cancers inactively. As a result, we will get cancer from the vaccine. Last but not least, there’s the theory that vaccines are made from foetal tissues. This theory assumes that the vaccines were manufactured using aborted foetal cells, but little is known about it.
Logic vs. Anti-vaxxers
There’s no denying that anti-vaxxers make a compelling case as to why the vaccine isn’t effective and harmful to us, but it still contradicts scientific facts and defies logic at some point. They base a large portion of their argument on the fact that not enough testing was done during the vaccine’s rapid development. Because scientists were able to make vaccines in a short amount of time using modern technology and decades of research, these individuals began to doubt the vaccine’s safety. Anti-vaxxers claim that FDA only granted an emergency authorisation approval instead of full approval since the vaccine was not rigorously tested before being made available to the public.
Anti-vaxxers are also concerned about the vaccine’s efficacy. Breakthrough cases have shown that the virus can still infect people who have received their vaccines, prompting anti-vaxxers to question the need for vaccination if the outcomes appear to be the same with or without vaccination. Some argue that because they’ve been infected with COVID, they’re now immune to the virus. Our bodies develop immunity to combat the infection, but at what cost? Sadly, many people are not fortunate enough to be able to fight the infection naturally, many die before receiving the vaccine, some live to see another day, but with treacherous side effects that greatly reduces their quality of life. Anti-vaxxers’ allegations that the vaccine is a hoax have been strengthened by a recent incident that went viral on Twitter, in which individuals from different accounts posted videos of themselves being administered with an empty syringe. Even though officials performed a thorough investigation and took necessary actions against the individuals implicated, anti-vaxxers continue to stay firm in their beliefs and refuse to take the vaccine.
These anti-vaxxers tout freedom of choice as one of their grounds for not taking the vaccine. At this point, no one is legally required to take the vaccine, so, for the time being, there is nothing stopping them from refusing to be vaccinated. Religious obligations are another popular argument used by anti-vaxxers. Though studies have been conducted and the majority of religious denominations around the world have no issues with the vaccine, others argue that it is “morally compromised” because of the content of cells generated from aborted foetuses in the vaccines. Anti-vaxxers use a variety of conspiracy theories and myths which, to put it simply, do not make much sense as justifications for not seeking the vaccine.
Mistrust in Science in Rural Areas
While the Internet should be ubiquitous, rural communities do not have the luxury of having relevant information at their fingertips. People who reside in these locations generally do not keep up with current events and are unaware of the news, leaving them to fend for themselves in extreme situations. These people are sceptical of science and technology because of their traditional values and beliefs. They not only prefer their way of doing things, they also refuse to adjust to new societal standards and accept that humans are now cohabiting with robots.
People in these places lack sufficient access to education, information, and media, thus they are unaware of current world affairs and are not properly informed on the severity of the virus or the importance of vaccination. They are deprived of knowledge on different types of vaccines, the contents of the vaccines, the importance of the vaccines, and other serious matters. Even if some of them were educated on these concerns, they would be hesitant to accept the vaccine since they have more trust in traditional medicine. It would be difficult for them to embrace vaccines as a cure for this disease because of their strong and unwavering faith in traditional medicine. This is due to their knowledge and expertise in traditional medicine, which allows them to practice it safely, as opposed to modern medicine, which is new and unfamiliar. As a result, for them, natural immunity is seen as a better option as opposed to vaccination.
The Role of Religion and Politics
Science and religion have always had a love-hate relationship since the beginning of time. As science advances, religion may either aid or obstruct its advancement. Similarly, when religion has an opinion, science can either support or refute it. Religion either enhances or detracts from science. This relationship is being put to the test even more, now that scientists are pushing for vaccine mandates while some religious leaders are against them.
Religion has been regularly used as an excuse by many anti-vaxxers who refuse to take the vaccine. The irony is that most religious denominations have had no issues taking the vaccination; in fact, they strongly endorse its usage and encourage individuals to get it. Many religions have issued public statements in complete favour of the vaccine mandate and have no theological objections to the vaccine, according to reports from around the world. In Malaysia, where Islam is the most widely followed religion, mosque sermons are used to overcome COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy. Religious practitioners expressed worries about whether or not the vaccine is halal and permissible for Muslims to use, so the government took steps to allay their fears and officially declared the vaccine to be permissible for Muslims. When a respected figure who is well-versed in Islamic law, the imam, addressed these issues during weekly sermons at local mosques, a large part of the community felt relieved. Vaccine hesitancy among Muslims was considerably lessened as a result of this.
Pope Francis, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church, has also urged people to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Getting the shot, according to the current leader of Catholicism, is an “act of love.” Following that, leaders from three branches of Judaism — Reform, Orthodox, and Conservative — issued declarations supporting vaccinations. Even though Buddhism has no central authority that sets doctrine, the Dalai Lama had his vaccine shot in India in March and recommended that others get the vaccine as well. Most Christian faiths, including the Amish, Roman Catholicism, Baptists, and even Jehovah’s Witnesses, to mention a few, have agreed that the vaccine does not violate their beliefs. Most religions from over the world have voiced their complete support and agreement with the vaccine’s administration.
Vaccine hesitancy is a global issue that affects every community. Only 5% of worshippers believe their clergy members dissuade them from using vaccines. According to a survey, some evangelical Christians have a church leader who opposes vaccinations, with 4% indicating that this has happened to them. Religion has always had a significant impact on how people think and behave. Though all religions preach in the name of God and for the greater good, some people try to use religion to obtain vaccine exemptions, even if there is no legitimate justification for it.
When the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan was still considered an epidemic as opposed to a pandemic, not only the public, but also world leaders were ignorant of the virus’s severity and threat. Many ignored the early signs of struggle in Wuhan because they were certain that they were safe. Little did they know, they were in for a surprise. Trump, Modi, Erdogen, Duterte, and Bolsonaro are just some of the many world leaders who have failed to deal with the COVID-19 crisis in their countries. Malaysia doesn’t fall short of this either. We have seen three different prime ministers in two years, from Mahathir, to Muhyiddin to the current Prime Minister, Ismail Sabri. Leaders around the world are trained to be prepared for anything, from economic downfalls to wars and natural disasters, but no one seemed to know how to fight a virus or was prepared to do so. Therefore, it is fair to conclude that each country has faced its own set of challenges in combating the virus.
To put an end to this nightmare of a pandemic, the government and the people must work together to stop the infection’s spread and its potential to harm humanity. In other words, we must eradicate the virus first before it kills us.
The wearing of masks in public areas, maintaining a one-meter distance between one another, and using hand sanitisers regularly are among the standards of procedures (SOP) that have been in place since the very start of the pandemic. With the vaccination now available in practically every country, government officials have imposed new laws to which all citizens must follow. Today, most public locations, such as malls, schools and universities, restaurants, and even workplaces, are only open to those who have received both doses of the vaccine and have finished the two-week waiting period. Aside from that, people travelling must have completed both doses and the waiting period, and they must take a PCR test and quarantine upon arrival in the destination country before undergoing another PCR test. Depending on the country, different rules apply. But one thing is certain in all countries: individuals who are not vaccinated do not have the same privileges as those who are. The essential things that people used to do, such as shopping and dining in a restaurant, are now deemed luxury. Failure to comply with these guidelines may result in a fine or imprisonment, depending on the gravity of the offence.
Earlier this week, health minister Khairy Jamaluddin issued a warning to anti-vaccination activists, saying, “Sorry to say, we will continue to make life very difficult for you if you are not vaccinated because you choose not to,” and that he would be releasing a national testing strategy for those who are unvaccinated soon, making it mandatory for them to pay for a weekly self-test. The overarching message of his entire discussion was that individuals who have not been vaccinated should do so ASAP.
The government plays an important role in changing anti-vaxxers’ opinions. The first step in setting an example for their followers is for political leaders to encourage people to get vaccines. The government could potentially impose stronger restrictions and harsher penalties for individuals who break them. Apart from that, it is the government’s job to educate its citizens about the need for vaccinations. Citizens would be more inclined to take the vaccine if the government provided assurance for them. The public must have a thorough grasp of the issue and the actions that can be taken to avoid it. Overall, the government has a significant role in influencing public opinion towards vaccination acceptance.
A Way Forward
When all is said and done, the question of what should be done about anti-vaxxers remains. Do we leave them to their ways, believing that everyone has the right to make their own decisions, even if it means jeopardising the safety of others? Should we impose tougher laws against this group of people? Is something like that ethical? How could we not have learned from history, where defiance resulted in turmoil and nothing good? What’s the ultimate verdict? How can we, as individuals, play a role in combating anti-vaxxers and making a difference for the greater good? After all, everyone is entitled to their own opinion. Is entitlement, rather than logic or science, the only thing that matters? We could all pin it on the government and religion, or we could work together to fix the problem. That is up to us to decide.
[Written by Balvin Dhaliwal ; Edited by Miza Alisya]