As of today, it has been 545 days since the first MCO was announced. That’s one year, five months and 27 days. Over this time period, there have been around 1.7 million COVID-19 cases and nearly 17,000 deaths across the country.
But despite all this time, Malaysia is still stuck in this wretched pandemic.
The good news is that at this point, millions of people across the nation have taken their vaccines.
The bad news is that more and more anti-vaxxer groups have appeared over the past year, sprouting out from the hidden corners of the internet to spread their wild claims and weird memes all over our social media.
They may seem funny at first glance, but the truth is that these anti-vaccine groups are a serious problem. Whether their beliefs spring from ignorance or malice, their activities are making the pandemic worse for everyone around them.
How Many Malaysian Anti-Vaxxers Are There?
In a recent report, the Special Committee on COVID-19 Vaccine Supply (JKJAV) announced that around 90% of Malaysian adults have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine.
In other words, despite how numerous they may seem online, in reality, hardcore anti-vaxxers make up less than 10% of our population.
So how have anti-vaxxers been able to spread their messages far and wide despite such low numbers?
Anti-Vaxxers Are Not Evil (/Srs)
Before we move on, it’s important to clarify that most anti-vaxxers are not malicious trolls or paranoid conspiracy theorists. In fact, the vast majority of them are simply ordinary people who have been led astray. However, while their intentions may be good, the misinformation they spread is still harmful.
In an interview with MalaysiaNow, psychologist Dr Mariani Md Nor explained that anti-vaxxer groups are often rooted in misinformation.
“There are so-called experts on social media sharing negative information about the vaccines,” she said, adding that those who had little understanding about vaccines were particularly vulnerable to anti-vaxxer messages.
Dr Fauziah Mohd Sa’ad, a counselling psychologist at Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris, concurred with Dr Mariani’s explanation. She pointed out that fear is the primary motivation behind most anti-vaxxer behaviours.
“When you come into contact with something unknown, fear will push you away from understanding it,” she said. “When someone is fearful, that person will be prone to emotional disorders and abnormal behaviour.”
Talking to Anti-Vaxxers
Personally, I’ve never really seen the point of arguing with anti-vaxxers. After all, I have so many other things to worry about. Why waste time arguing when I can win by simply walking away and letting them deal with their own consequences?
However, while it’s easy enough to simply brush off random people online, it’s a very different situation when one of your loved ones fall into the anti-vaxxer hole. After all, you can’t just block and ignore your friends or relatives forever, right?
Okay, you can. But we’re not supposed to say it out loud.
Is it possible to convince them to stop, or will you have to live with dozens of weird anti-vaxxer messages being spammed into your DMs every day?
If you’re psyching yourself up for a confrontation with an anti-vaxxer loved one, here are a few tips to keep in mind:
1. Be Empathetic
When you’re talking to an anti-vaxxer loved one, it’s easy to feel frustrated. However, if you want your words to have any effect, you need to be empathetic.
In many cases, the anti-vaxxer arguments are just a cover for their real worries. For example, my own grandmother refused to get the vaccine for the longest time because she was afraid of needles. If we had not taken the time to listen to her worries, we wouldn’t have been able to reassure her and make her feel comfortable enough to go through with getting the vaccine.
You don’t have to agree with false information, but you should try to make your loved ones at least feel heard. Even if you think they’re wrong, it’s important to stay calm and try to understand their concerns.
2. Focus On The Positive
One good way of speaking to anti-vaxxers is to focus on the positives rather than the negatives. This means that instead of saying things like “You’re the reason this pandemic is dragging on for so long!”, try to say things like “Once everyone’s vaccinated, we can come and visit you again!”
Part of the reason why anti-vaxxer groups have grown so much is because many people are afraid and unsure of what to believe. In this kind of situation, being too aggressive can make them dig their heels in because they’re feeling attacked.
By focusing on a simple, positive message, you can help them to focus on what’s important. Even something as simple as “I can’t wait to visit you again once we’ve beaten this pandemic!” can make a big difference.
3. Don’t Make Fun of Them
If you’ve listened to anti-vaxxer beliefs, it can be very tempting to mock them. However, if you’re talking with an anti-vaxxer loved one, try to resist the urge.
Even if it sounds absolutely crazy, making fun of people’s beliefs isn’t going to change their mind.
Despite how strange or nonsensical their beliefs are, it’s important to remember that at the end of the day, these are your loved ones. They’ve been through a very difficult year, just like you. The only difference is that they’ve been taken advantage of by anti-vaxxer groups while they were feeling scared and vulnerable.
4. Keep Communicating
The most important thing that you can do for anti-vaxxer friends or family members is to keep the lines of communication open.
It’s easy to say “I’m never going to talk to them anymore”. In fact, it can be very tempting. However, by doing this, you could be making your loved ones even more vulnerable than before.
This is because those who feel isolated and alone are more likely to fall deeper into conspiracy theories and fringe beliefs. If left alone for too long, they could eventually start spiraling further and further away from reality.
As such, even if you disagree with them, it’s important to make it clear that you will be there for them. And if that means that you don’t talk about health or vaccine stuff at all, that’s fine. Not perfect, but fine.
5. Don’t Get Discouraged, But Do Take A Break
Convincing someone who is opposed to vaccines can be a long, painful process.
Don’t get discouraged if you don’t succeed immediately. This kind of process will take time, patience and lots of love.
At the same time, don’t succumb to banging your head against the wall over and over again. If your loved one is obsessively consuming anti-vaxxer content and refusing to listen to anything you say, it’s alright to step back and take a break.
Remember: you can’t force someone to change their mind if they really don’t want to. In the end, all you can do is help them make the right decision.
We Can’t Just Ignore Anti-Vaxxers
Ultimately, the fact is that anti-vaxxers are people too. Though it can feel cathartic to just leave them to suffer the consequences of their own decisions, the vast majority of them are not bad people. However, that doesn’t mean that it’s safe for us to just leave them alone.
Over the past year, anti-vaxxers around the world have grown increasingly extreme about their beliefs.
We’ve all seen news reports of people overseas drinking bleach or horse medicine or whatever miracle cure has gone viral this week, but lately even the ones here in Malaysia have been caught trying to do shady things like deliberately breaking SOPs and trying to bribe doctors to get a fake digital certificate.
If you want to learn more about what local anti-vaxxer groups have been up to, check out: