SEMPORNA, June 14 — When the special health task force from the Semporna District Health Office distributed the COVID-19 vaccination registration forms to some 500 residents of Pulau Bum Bum recently, only 200 of them agreed to receive the vaccine.
The rest of the villagers provided a negative answer, saying that they were afraid to be vaccinated.
But the question is, why?
According to Nasir Abu Bakar, 49, head of Kampung Balimbang, one of the villages in Pulau Bum Bum, many villagers were exposed to negative information about the COVID-19 vaccine, which allegedly could cause death, paralysis or stroke, either through hearsay or social media.
“That is why when the Health Ministry (MOH) offers the vaccination, I volunteered to be inoculated first so that I can share my experience with others.
My wife and our three children have also been vaccinated. Let us prove that the COVID-19 vaccine is safe and is the best way to protect oneself from the virus,” said Nasir who received the Sinovac vaccine last Tuesday.
In the meantime, Nasir said he would continue to assist the MOH in providing explanations to residents of Kampung Balimbang and he was also glad that some of them have begun to understand the benefits of the COVID-19 vaccine.
“I managed to gather around 80 people who want to take the vaccine. If the mobile vaccination team can visit the village, it will reduce our travel cost,” he said, adding that it would be best if the ministry could open up a vaccination centre in Pulau Bum Bum.
Meanwhile, for health personnel in Semporna, particularly the special health task force, they must continue to convince the residents of Pulau Bum Bum and other 27 islands in the district to accept the vaccine until the immunisation campaign is successful.
Semporna district health officer Dr Shameer Khan Sulaiman said the lukewarm response from the residents of Pulau Bum Bum would not affect the morale of health personnel; in fact, they would continue to work hard to raise awareness among the people on the importance of vaccination.
Dr Shameer explained that the current vaccination process was focused on the people of the mainland of Semporna and the approach to visit and directly inoculate them had received an encouraging response, thus helping to build their confidence to take the vaccine.
“For instance, during the outreach programme in Kampung Bugaya, we managed to inoculate 300 residents in five hours and 60 per cent of them did not have the MySejahtera application,” he said.
Dr Shameer said the approach could also improve the registration rate as many of the residents still depended on the manual registration method.
So far, about 10,000 people in Semporna have registered for vaccination but only 1,000 of them registered through the MySejahtera application.
“Previously when the ministry met with the Community Leader Development Unit, all village heads were briefed on the vaccination process and we provided them with registration forms to be filled in by the villagers. After that, we will register them and provide the vaccination date.
“There is a lot of work but without this effort, we cannot reach over 4,000 who have been vaccinated so far,” he said, adding that the District Health Office aimed to inoculate 120,000 to 140,000 Semporna residents under the immunisation programme.