On March 7, the Malaysian news website Free Malaysia Today published a report (summarized here on March 19) analyzing the reactions of the different Orang Asli societies to the COVID-19 vaccines. Three months later, FMT updated their coverage of the same subject by providing new information. The journalist identifies some of the people interviewed with the specific society they are from, such as Temuan or Semai, but for others they are only identified in general terms as being Orang Asli—Original People.
The latest analysis points out the wide variations in acceptance of vaccinations in the different communities the reporter visited. Some believe the misinformation that is bandied about. For instance, a Temuan activist named Mimi Anai said that many of her contacts were afraid of being vaccinated after seeing stories of people who died as a result of getting the shots.
Worse, she said the people are repeating myths that help to exaggerate their fears. For example, as a result of their vaccinations some people become fully paralyzed, according to one rumor. Another false story is that vaccination shots could alter a person’s DNA. “Just yesterday, I saw news that someone had supposedly become comatose after getting vaccinated,” she told the reporter. Mimi is the only person in her village who wants to be vaccinated, though she has not gotten her appointment yet.
The reporter interviewed Tijah Yok Chopil, a prominent Semai activist who was also quoted in the March FMT story. She said it was essential for the Orang Asli agency of the government, JAKOA, to educate the Orang Asli more effectively and to counter the widespread misinformation that was circulating. She said that relying solely on the social media would not be effective enough. She said that community and government leaders needed to visit the villages in person and explain the importance of getting vaccinated.
She recommended that district health officials as well as people from JAKOA should take action. She added that visitors going into the villages should remind the people that babies are normally vaccinated in the health clinics to protect them against all sorts of diseases.
The FMT journalist quotes other Orang Asli who make similar points: there is widespread concern in their communities about the safety and efficacy of the vaccines. And those concerns are amplified and spread through misleading, false rumors which can best be corrected by getting knowledgeable people into the villages to present accurate information.