Curb widespread fake news on COVID-19 booster shots, says former MP

ALL quarters must come together to stem the spread of fake news on COVID-19 booster shots which could cost lives because if anything is to spread faster than the pandemic, it is fake news.

According to former Stampin Member of Parliament (MP) Julian Tan Kok Ping, the widespread fake news on COVID-19 booster shots is worrying, especially misinformation on the safety and effectiveness of mix-and-match vaccines (heterologous).

This is especially the case for Pfizer-BioNTech booster shots for those who had previously received the Sinovac vaccine.

“We have been receiving all kinds of false information on the booster shots on a daily basis, and even children had contacted us [to ask] for help as many of their parents who were vaccinated with Sinovac here had decided to ditch their booster shot appointments after receiving an overwhelming amount of false information regarding its safety,” Tan pointed out.

He further related how his team had gone through some of the fake news and found them to be “ridiculously misleading and outright lies by fake ‘experts’ on false medical information”.

“This goes beyond just spreading lies but also riding on the fear it generates to rake in millions of ringgit in advertising money when the user clicks and visits their websites,” Tan remarked.

According to the Global Disinformation Index, European fake news sites alone earn around US$75 mil, including those that peddle fake news about the coronavirus.

“If we include sites from other countries, especially non-English speaking ones, the amount could be even more than that. This goes on to show that the motivation is real, with severe consequences in the making,” Tan added.


“Significant superiority in protection”

Tan went on to stress several points regarding the effectiveness and importance of the Pfizer booster shot, pointing out that a Chinese study had suggested that using different COVID-19 vaccines for booster shots may be more effective than a third Sinovac dose.

“China (Hong Kong) is now opening and urging people within the high-risk group, particularly those with compromised immune systems, those aged 60 and above as well as frontliners, who have received Sinovac jabs to opt for Pfizer booster shots to ensure better protection,” Tan noted.

He also pointed to a study from Turkey involving several hundred health workers which revealed that “The [Pfizer/BioNTech] vaccine applied in the third dose of the vaccine showed a significant superiority in protection – both in terms of antibody level and disease status – compared to the third dose of CoronaVac vaccine”.

The same study, according to Tan, also showed that 95% of participants who had received Pfizer booster shots had antibody levels above the “maximum measurable tier” compared to only 8.2% of those who received Sinovac as a booster shot.

“Thailand and Indonesia are also both early adopters of vaccine-mixing, in particular, Sinovac with other vaccines like AstraZeneca and Moderna, which showed higher efficacy levels.

“The results were also published in several non-peer-reviewed articles and covered by several major news portals,” he justified.

 Continued Tan, a booster shot is vital, especially to those who have been fully vaccinated with the Sinovac vaccine due to the waning efficacy of the vaccine.

“A recent Thai study showed that antibodies in those fully-vaccinated with Sinovac decline by half every 40 days due to the more infectious Delta variant.

“Meanwhile, the latest report from the World Health Organisation (WHO) on a limited study suggested that the Sinovac vaccine was 51% effective at preventing symptomatic diseases and is on par with the 63% efficacy reported for the AstraZeneca vaccine.”

Both are lower than the 90% or higher efficacies of the mRNA vaccines developed by Pfizer-BioNTech.

However, Tan noted that all vaccines are still 100% effective at preventing severe disease and death from COVID-19.


MKN must step up efforts to curb fake news

The Government, especially the National Security Council (MKN), must step up its efforts to curb such fake news by educating the public and addressing the misleading information head on.

“We need good infographics and short videos that deal directly with COVID-19-related fake news. The public must be able to share the information easily across commonly-used social platforms,” Tan remarked.

“We also need to have a dedicated website and WhatsApp group where users can easily share fake news they received for further investigation while this fake news must be countered swiftly with factual information. 

“The websites that promote fake news must be identified and blocked by the Malaysian Communications And Multimedia Commission (MCMC).”

Tan also urged people to stop sharing fake news from unknown and unreliable sources, especially those related to COVID-19 that can incite fear within the community.

“Let’s not put others’ lives in danger by causing vaccine hesitancy. We may potentially save the lives of others and our loved ones as well,” he concluded. – Nov 10, 2021


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