Surabaya's COVID-19 vaccine injection. (Ida Sufaidah / Shutterstock.com)

The spread of “misinformation”, or information that embellishes or serves to sow doubt about facts, isn’t new and with the latest developments in the release of vaccines to help combat the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, this phenomenon has once again spread like wildfire. Popularly called “hoaxes’ in Indonesia, groups have been questioning the legitimacy of the vaccinations.

UNDP Indonesia, in partnership with its projects to prevent violent extremism, GUYUB, and the for Response Towards Resilience (RESTORE) project, organized a national webinar with PUSAD Paramadina, a study research group on democracy and religion in Indonesia. Over 100 participants joined the discussion which raised information about access to reliable information about the COVID-19 vaccine.

Irma Hidayana (Co-Initiator and Co-Leader Lapor COVID-19), Zubairi Djoerban (Head of OVID-19 Task Force PB Ikatan Dokter Indonesia), and Abdul Mu'ti (General Secretary PP Muhammadiyah) were among the panelists. Zubairi began by addressing and clarifying rumors and hoaxes on social media, such as the efficacy of the Sinovac vaccine, and the process of obtaining Halal and National Food and Drug Agency (BPOM) certification. “People should know that the virus does not recognize what religion you follow. COVID-19 is highly infectious, and everyone is at risk of exposure. The vaccine is also not the magic bullet to cure the pandemic; we still need to take all the precautions we already have right now,” Zubairi noted in opening remarks.

Irma Hidayana from laporcovid19.org noted that more efforts to provide reliable information need to be taken to stop the spread of misinformation, disinformation, rumors, and hoaxes about the vaccine. “Through one of our surveys, we found that people believed reliable sources, such as experts, doctors and religious leaders. Surprisingly, influencers or public figures are the last preferred among our respondents,” she noted.

She also stated that more communications are needed – with a proper explanation of its safety and efficacy are needed to address public concern.

Abdul Muti agreed with Irma’s point, noting “Halal certification for Sinovac will help change people's perception of the vaccine - and how it could actually protect them and their families. Based on SMRC [Saiful Murjani Research Center]'s research in 2020, most respondents were in favor of the vaccine. However, of those who rejected the vaccine, only a few respondents were hesitant about the vaccine because of religious reasons. Most of the rejection's concerns were regarding vaccine safety.”

The use of a structural approach and non-conventional approach such as Whatsapp groups can be used to provide more accurate advise and updates about the vaccines to the public.

Abdul Muti explains, ” Muhammadiyah (one of Indonesia’s largest islamic organizations), has been using online chat platforms to provide reliable information about the COVID-19 vaccine. We would like the public to realize that the vaccine is an ikhtiar (‘effort’,) requiring collective action.”

“To reach even the most remote communities, all officials working in the smallest government structures should be involved to share factual information,” Irma added

In closing, Abdul Muti emphasized, “People nowadays are more rational and more objective, both to the pandemic and the vaccine. Polarization in the media including those referring to “anti-foreign” and “anti-China” elements might exist, but more open dialogue with health experts and religious leaders will help society be better-informed.”

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Written by Enggi Dewanti

Edited by Ranjit Jose

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About the Projects

GUYUB project is a joint initiative to strengthen social cohesion through capacity building, advocacy and awareness raising in East Java and beyond between the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), and the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) and is made possibly by the generous funding of the United Nations Trust Fund for Human Security (UNTFHS).

 

RESTORE (Response Towards Reslience) project is UNDP Indonesia’s immediate response to the COVID-19 pandemic to pave the way to the medium and longer – term recovery support during and post pandemics in Indonesia. The outputs are part of the wider response of the United Nations development system in Indonesia under the leadership of UN Resident Coordinator system and will include joint initiatives with other UN agencies, including World Health

Organization (WHO), UNICEF, UN Women, and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

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