Over the past year, one of my older relatives (let’s call him G, shall we?) has unfortunately fallen into the strange and incomprehensible world of anti-vaxxers.
While I still love him, the never-ending stream of bizarre memes, outlandish insinuations and straight-up-insane claims about the COVD-19 vaccine that’s been filling up my inbox every morning has been tiring, to say the least.
The most frustrating thing about this situation is that all these anti-vaxx messages aren’t being sent by an idiot who doesn’t know any better.
I know that G is no fool. Heck, he’s worked as a doctor for over 20 years. He’s probably given vaccinations to his patients at some point!
Yet for some reason, the moment you mention COVID-19, all his years of education and training suddenly disappear out the window. The smart, compassionate man I know is replaced by an absolute moron who repeats the same crazy conspiracy theories over and over again like some cheap chat bot.
It’d be hilarious if it weren’t so heartbreaking.
There Are Still Plenty of Anti-Vaxxed People Out There
On 13 October 2021, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Special Functions) Datuk Dr Abdul Latiff Ahmad released a public statement that the government wasn’t planning to make COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for civil servants.
“In Singapore, they have laws to make it mandatory, but we have not reached that level yet,” he said, “In Malaysia, we can achieve things without any compulsion.”
Despite Dr Abdul’s reassurances, on 19 October 2021 the Public Service Department (PSD) Director General Tan Sri Mohd Khairul Adib Abd Rahman released a circular stating that federal civil servants had to complete their COVID-19 immunisation by 1 November 2021.
“On or after 1 November 2021, any officer who fails to comply with the Head of Department’s instructions may result in disciplinary action or termination of service,” it said.
Unfortunately, even with these measures, there are still many civil servants who’ve refused to get their shots. During a Dewan Rakyat meeting on 10 November 2021, Dr Abdul admitted that around 28,800 civil servants have yet to receive their vaccinations.
“Based on data from the Communicable Diseases Centre under the Public Service Department, about 1.8% (28,800) out of an estimated 1.6 million civil servants have refused or yet to receive vaccination,” he said.
Khairy Jamaluddin and the Four Vaccine Jinns
Dr Abdul isn’t the only government official who seems to be losing patience with anti-vaxxer groups.
On 17 October 2021, Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin shared a screenshot from an anti-vaxxer chat group which claimed that he was using “four demonic jinn” to protect himself from COVID-19.
Their proof? A picture of him wearing bracelets on his left hand. Apparently, bracelets are the sign of the devil… or something?
Don’t ask me, I don’t get it either.
In any case, Khairy quickly hit back with his own Instagram message.
“Wrong. I use four vaccine jinns to protect Malaysia. The Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Sinovac and CanSino jinns,” he said jokingly.
Despite his good-humoured response to the “demonic jinns” accusations, Khairy has made it clear that he intends to make life tough for Malaysian anti-vaxxers.
“If you cannot be vaccinated, that’s fine. We give MySejahtera digital exemption,” he explained. However, he added that this light treatment only applied to those who actually could not take the vaccine safely.
“Sorry to say, we will make life very difficult for you if you’re not vaccinated by choice.”
Aside from that, Khairy announced plans to mandate regular COVID-19 testing for those who refused to take their vaccine.
“If you choose not to vaccinate, then we will probably ask you to do regular tests that you have to pay for,” he said.
Are These Practical Measures or Government Gangsterism?
Although many Malaysians seemed to support Khairy’s ideas, others have expressed worry at the government’s increasingly harsh response to anti-vaxxers.
Shortly after Khairy’s announcement, National Union of Bank Employees (NUBE) General-Secretary J Solomon called him out, saying that this kind of announcement was “the government resorting to gangsterism against citizens”.
“Forcing the vaccine on those who do not want to be vaccinated will be tantamount to molestation,” he said.
Solomon did not elaborate on why he believed that taking an injection was the same as getting molested. Instead, he urged the government to respect people’s rights by focusing on providing medical assistance rather than chasing down anti-vaxxers.
Another of Khairy’s big critics is opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, who believes that the government needs to use a softer, more science-based approach when it comes to anti-vaxxer groups.
“I don’t back anti-vaxxers, but they argue the case against vaccines well. So we need to counter them by putting forward stronger arguments,” he said. “If they cite scientific studies, we need to respond with studies that carry more credibility to convince them. There is no need to threaten them.”
Do We Really Want the Government to Have This Much Power Over Us?
When it comes to public safety, how far is too far?
It’s easy enough to say “we must do whatever it takes!”. Yet, after seeing some of the anti-pandemic measures that have been used over the past two years, I can understand why some people might be wary of handing the government too much power over our lives.
It’s understandable to be frustrated with anti-vaxxers. It’s perfectly normal to feel upset or exasperated by the way that they’ve been acting.
But no matter how annoyed I may be at G, I don’t want him to end up getting arrested or forced to go to the hospital just because of his beliefs.
Can We Still Convince Anti-Vaxxers?
Although I may sympathise a little, it doesn’t mean that we should allow G and his fellow anti-vaxxer buddies to run around doing whatever they want.
Over the past year, local anti-vaxxer groups have attempted to skirt the rules over and over again. When they’re not fishing for fake certificates or causing scenes at shopping malls, they spend a lot of time and energy trying to spread fake news in order to attract more supporters.
No matter how justified they might feel, this sort of behaviour is dangerous — not just to the anti-vaxxers themselves, but also to everyone around them.
If one of your loved ones has been caught up in anti-vaxxer culture, the best thing you can do is help guide them away from it. After all, nobody wants to wake up one morning and see their loved one’s face plastered on the front page of the news for doing something crazy.
If you need help speaking to an anti-vaxxer friend or relative, be sure to check out: