Around the world, people are asking good questions about the different vaccines that are now available for preventing COVID-19—whether to get vaccinated, how and where to get the shots, and so on. The Orang Asli of Malaysia are as confused as many others so the popular Malaysian news website Free Malaysia Today on March 7 published an article describing the situation. The article focuses on how advocates for the Semai, Batek, Chewong and other Original People are trying to cope with the situation.
Colin Nicholas from the Centre for Orang Asli Concerns told the reporter that the Orang Asli were being deceived by false information and fake news. He said that this misinformation might make it difficult to convince the people to get vaccinated.
Nicholas cited as an example of fake news a story that the government was planning to use Orang Asli as test subjects for experimental vaccines. He denied the allegation that they typically are anti-vaxers. They carefully follow the vaccination schedules for their children when they are directed to do so by health officials. He added that a lot of technical information about the vaccinations is being issued which does tend to confuse the Orang Asli.
Furthermore, they sometimes misinterpret what they hear or read. For instance, news that two people out of 100,000 who were vaccinated died as a result was blown out of proportion by fear mongers. This was making it difficult to get straightforward, accurate information to the people.
Tijah Yok Chopil, a prominent Semai activist, said that many Orang Asli were concerned that they had not heard where the vaccines came from nor what they contained. “There needs to be awareness campaigns tailored to the different Orang Asli communities in their own languages,” she argued.
Khairy Jamaluddin, the Malaysian Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation, appealed to civic groups to help the government educate the Orang Asli about issues related to the vaccines for COVID-19.