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Monday, February 22, 2021

Health DG: We need to counter vaccine misinformation among Orang Asli


COVID-19 | The Health Ministry is committed to ensuring that the Orang Asli community is aware of the Covid-19 vaccination's importance in combating the virus, said its director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah.

In line with this, he said the ministry will further engage with the community to enhance their understanding of the vaccine concept and the benefits of taking it as many seem to be misinformed on the matter. 

"Firstly, let me clarify that the Orang Asli are not in the first phase of those to be vaccinated.

"The Health Ministry will continue to do engagement and encouragement (of the vaccine concept) with the community through focus groups.

"It is true that many have been misled by anti-vaccination misinformation," he told Malaysiakini today.

Noor Hisham was responding to a comment by Jaring Perkampungan Orang Asli Johor chairperson Dolah Tekoi who said today that the Orang Asli did not wish to be part of the first group to be vaccinated and be made guinea pigs to see if it was successful.

Orang Asli Development Department (Jakoa) director-general Juli Edo also conceded that such misinformation was being spread through the community, saying that most of the Orang Asli had no problems receiving the vaccine as they realise the need for it. 

"Jakoa is also aware that some might have doubts especially after they were influenced by social media posts inciting them against taking the vaccine," he said, adding that Jakoa was doing its best to reach out at the grassroots level.

Last week, Orang Asli activist Ramesh Arumugam Chettiar, founder of the Koperasi Pembangunan Orang Asli, had called on the government to prioritise the Orang Asli, saying that many communities do not have sufficient nutrition or a balanced immunity to naturally fight this dangerous virus.

On Saturday, Kelantan Orang Asli head Bidi Ronggeng said some 5,000 settlers in Pos Brooke, Pos Hendrope and Pos Tuel in the Gua Musang area have agreed to and welcomed the National Immunisation Programme.

“The Orang Asli community here will not reject the vaccination since the government through the Health Ministry has recommended that we should get it for our good,” Bidi added.

However, the concerns of leaders such as Dolah will need to be addressed before the various communities can be successfully vaccinated. This was as his comments revealed that there is much work still to be done.

"Given that this vaccine is still new and the risks are not yet known, it is very inappropriate if the target of the experiment are Orang Asli and not ministers and politicians.

"Do not make the Orang Asli a 'laboratory rat' on this matter even though the Orang Asli are not really vulnerable to the risk of Covid-19 infection because they only live in their own group, especially in traditional villages," Dolah said. - Mkini

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