The Kelantan government has reported that 10,000 people in the state did not keep their appointments for the COVID-19 vaccination. This is quite disappointing because the vaccine is one of the main weapons to combat COVID-19 while maintaining the SOPs that have been advised by the Ministry of Health.
Malaysia has also targeted for the country to achieve group immunisation of at least 80 per cent. If many people are still sceptical about the importance of this vaccine, I am worried we will face prolonged difficulties as a result of this pandemic.
Now that many have lost their jobs and economic development has also been affected, we cannot wait to live as freely as possible like before the pandemic struck. In this situation, the younger generation should now play a leading role engaging in self-advocacy.
Self-advocacy is learning how to speak up for yourself, making your own decisions about your own life, learning how to get information so that you can understand things that are of interest to you, finding out who will support you in your journey, knowing your rights and responsibilities, and problem solving.
Self-advocacy means we are able to ask for what we need and want and tell people about our thoughts and feelings. In other words, self-advocacy means we know our rights and responsibilities, we speak up for our rights, and we are able to make choices and decisions that affect our lives.
How to start self-advocacy?
The first is to do research on the importance of taking the COVID-19 vaccine. Give examples of the success of the United Kingdom, China and Russia and several other countries that have vaccinated their citizens.
The second is to identify the target audiences, meaning those who are still feeling sceptical about the safety of the vaccine. It is best that the information be disseminated to all Malaysians.
The third is to launch a campaign through social media, or directly to the public.
Why is the involvement of the younger generation so important in order to encourage more people to take the vaccine?
In the era of information technology, all sources of information can be easily reached. The younger generation is the group that is skilful in Information Technology. So, their ability to disseminate useful information is very important to society. Many university students now study through online classes. Hence, they have a lot of time at home. This time can be used by them to find information about the benefits and the need to take the COVID-19 vaccination.
The first thing that the younger generations can contribute as self-advocates for the National Immunisation Programme is using effective communication skills. They can use social media platforms like Facebook, YouTube, WhatsApp, Telegram or Instagram to be disseminators of useful information to the community. There is now a lot of information regarding the success of the COVID-19 vaccine in reducing the outbreak of this disease in the United Kingdom. This effort is important to prevent or curb false information being spread by anti-vaccine groups.
The second thing, apart from disseminating or sharing existing information, videos posted to YouTube or Facebook live can be used as a technique to persuade the community. Videos appeal to adults who may have less interest in reading or do not know how to read. From my experience teaching at the university during this MCO period, students had no problem producing video presentations for all assignments given. They have pretty impressive creativity.
The third thing is for lecturers to encourage their students to get involved in COVID-19 vaccine advocacy. We must use these young talents to disseminate information and provide awareness to the community so that the national vaccination programme reaches the target audience.
The fourth thing is accessing available support when needed. This includes finding peers who have an awareness of the importance of vaccines to equally help disseminate information to the public. The younger generation can use the information they gain and various programmes can be done as an effort to help the government to combat this pandemic.
I feel young people, especially university students, should immediately implement these steps. We are running out of time and the expertise of the young people has to be used. This effort requires no cost but only a small sacrifice of time. What’s wrong with sacrificing for the country? This is the time to give back to our dear country.
Assoc Prof Dr Suhana Saad is with the School of Social, Development & Environmental Studies, Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM).