There is now increasing knowledge and acceptance of the Covid-19 vaccine following initial doubts
When the Covid-19 virus shrouded the world, vaccines were touted as the best solution to contain the pandemic.
Vaccines were developed in record time, and the Pfizer-BioNtech and Moderna vaccines were among the first to roll out for mass vaccination programmes in December 2020.
While nations rushed to obtain the vaccines, some countries, including Malaysia, hesitancy towards Covid-19 vaccines seemed to be a problem. It posed a major setback to achieving herd immunity and containing the pandemic.
Associate Professor Dr Mohd Dzulkhairi Mohd Rani of the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences from Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia (USIM) and his research team conducted several surveys to determine readiness and acceptance by Malaysians of the Covid-19 vaccines and the National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme (NIP).
Series of surveys
Dr Dzulkhairi said: “The first survey was done in December 2020, when the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines were approved for vaccination.
“The next survey was done in February 2021, just before the NIP was launched in March. And we did a follow-up study in August.”
The first survey was an independent initiative of Dr Dzulkhairi and his research team, and they reached out to about 1,400 respondents nationwide. The survey used both quantitative and qualitative approaches. For the quantitative approach, some of the questions in the study were objective questions, whereby the respondent’s choice of answer is either yes or no. For the rest of the questions, they needed to state their agreement or disagreement based on the scale of one to five from strongly disagreeing to strongly agreeing.
“In the qualitative approach, we asked for feedback with open-ended questions. Respondents were free to write down their answers and voice out their opinions.”
They then published ‘Knowledge, acceptance and perception on Covid-19 vaccine among Malaysians: A web-based survey’ report.
“The Ministry of Health (MoH) came to know about the study and was interested in the findings.
“My team and I went to the Minister of Health and presented the study to the MoH’s strategic communication team, and they suggested conducting another survey just before the vaccine rollout under the NIP.
“The second study was in February 2021, and this time we collaborated with the MoH.
“The strategic communication team helped us to distribute the survey forms on MoH’s online platforms, including their websites and social media. We received 2,011 respondents for the second survey.”
According to Dr Dzulkhairi, the findings were helpful for MoH to determine which group needed the most focus and enhance their health promotion strategies for the NIP.
The most recent survey was in August and early September, and it obtained about 3,000 plus respondents.
“This time, we collaborated with Institute for Health Behavioral Research along with the MoH as well,” he shared, adding that the third survey finding is in the analysis stage.
Dr Dzulkhairi said it was interesting to see the trend in knowledge and acceptance regarding the Covid-19 vaccine.
Acceptance increased over time
The public awareness and knowledge of Covid-19 vaccines have increased over time.
He shared that in December, only 38 per cent of the respondents had good vaccine knowledge, while the February survey showed about 55 per cent of respondents as having good vaccine knowledge.
The preliminary analysis of the third survey shows a good majority of the respondents, about 70 to 80 per cent, possessing sound knowledge.
He explained: “This is likely due to Covid-19 vaccine information that Malaysians, or the respondents received at the particular time when conducting each survey.
“In the first survey, vaccine acceptance among the respondents was 64.5 per cent. In the second, there was a tremendous increase. Nearly 80 per cent of the respondents were willing to get vaccinated when the NIP started.
“The survey results in February are comparable to other studies done at the same time worldwide. Our research finding of nearly 80 per cent acceptance rate is among the highest acceptance rate, as most other countries had acceptance rates of about 60 per cent.”
Based on the preliminary analysis of the third study, the acceptance rate was more than 90 per cent.
“Most of the respondents of the third survey had either been fully vaccinated, partially vaccinated or had registered for vaccination.”
According to Dr Dzulkhairi, the knowledge and acceptance of the Covid-19 vaccine are also attributable to socio-demographic factors.
“The surveys show that the 20 to 30-year-old age-group have the most knowledge and acceptance. Meanwhile, the 40 to 50-year-old age group had the least knowledge and were doubtful of the vaccine, resulting in less acceptance.”
The report states the knowledge about vaccines was relatively poor, particularly among those with low education levels, low income and not living with high-risk groups.
The acceptability rate was also significantly low among males, those with chronic diseases and low income. Those with a bachelor’s degree and higher were associated with better acceptance towards the Covid-19 vaccine.
Dr Dzulkhairi explained acceptance increased as perception towards the vaccine changed over time.
“Apart from knowledge, perception also shifts according to experience. It could be their own experience or someone else’s experience of getting infected with the Covid-19 virus.
“Experiencing and understanding the risk of getting infected as well as the difference in severity between those who are vaccinated and those who were not vaccinated showed the importance of the vaccine.”
He commented that the number of anti-vaxxers is much lower than the millions of Malaysians vaccinated under the NIP.
“I hope the anti-vaxxers will change their perception and get themselves vaccinated.
“For safety and protection, businesses and premises now only allow individuals with risk-free and fully vaccinated status in MySejahtera to enter. It is also the case for those who wish to travel abroad.”
He believes that as the country starts entering the endemic phase and transit out of the National Recovery Plan, the remaining sceptics will eventually change their perception and get themselves vaccinated to participate in social activities. — The Health