Press Statement By Julian Tan:
All quarters must come together to stem the spread of fake news on COVID19 booster shots, which could cost lives. If anything is to spread faster than COVID19, it is fake news.
Currently, the widespread fake news on Covid-19 booster shots is worrying, especially misinformation on the safety and effectiveness of mix and match vaccine (heterologous). Specifically on Pfizer-BioNTech booster shot for those that had previously been vaccinated with Sinovac vaccine. According to the health minister, Khairy Jamaluddin, as much as 40% did not show up for their booster shot involving high-risk groups elderly, those who were immunocompromised, people with comorbidities, healthcare workers and workers at care homes.
Like many, we have been receiving all kinds of false information on the booster shot daily, and even children contacted us from aboard asking for help as many of their parents who were vaccinated with Sinovac here decided to ditch their appointment on Pfizer booster shot after receiving overwhelming false information of its safety.
We have gone through some fake news and found that it is ridiculously misleading and outright lies by fake ‘experts’ on false medical information. This goes beyond just spreading lies but ride on the fear it generates to rake in millions of advertising money when the user clicks and visits their website. Based on the Global Disinformation Index, European fake news sites alone earn around USD75mil, including those peddling fake news about Coronavirus. If we included sites from other countries, especially non-English speaking, the amount could be even more than that. The motivation is real, with severe consequences in the making.
Generally, fake news can be categorized into general misinformation beliefs, conspiracy beliefs and religious misinformation beliefs. I want to stress a few important points regarding the effectiveness and importance of the Pfizer booster shot that goes with the Sinovac vaccine. Here are just some of the facts with reference to sources:
1) Chinese (Beijing) study suggests using different Covid-19 vaccines for booster shots may be more effective than the third dose of Sinovac. (South China Morning Post – 8th Sept).
2) China (Hong Kong) is now opening and urged people within the high-risk group, particularly those with compromised immune systems, aged 60 and above and frontliners, who have received Sinovac jabs to opt for Pfizer booster shot “to ensure better protection”. (South China Morning Post – 5th Nov)
3) Latest study from Turkey on several hundred health workers (Manisa Celal Bayar University) shows that, quote “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,” (South China Morning Post – 4th Nov), and
4) The same study also shows that 95% of participants who received Pfizer booster shot had antibody levels above the “Maximum measurable tire” compared to only 8.2% for those who received Sinovac as a booster shot.
5) Latest and many peers/non-peer-reviewed studies (nature.com, medrxiv.org) shows the effectiveness of heterologous (vaccine mixing). Studies identified no safety concerns
6) Thailand and Indonesia both are early adopters of vaccine mixing. In particular, Sinovac with other vaccines (e.g. AZ, Moderna) showed higher efficacy levels. The results were also published in several non-peer-reviewed articles and covered by a few major news portals.
A booster shot is vital, especially to those that are fully vaccinated with Sinovac Vaccine due to the efficacy of the vaccine wanning. A recent Thai study shows that antibodies in those fully vaccinated with Sinovac decline by half every 40 days due to the more infectious Delta variant. Lab study reported by reuters.com also shows that the antibodies level declined below a key threshold from around 6 months after the 2nd shot. The latest report from World Health Organization (WHO), on a limited study, suggested that the Sinovac vaccine was 51% effective at preventing symptomatic disease, on par with the 63% efficacy reported for the AstraZeneca vaccine. Both are lower than the 90% and higher efficacies of the mRNA vaccines developed by Pfizer–BioNTech. It is important to note that all vaccines are still 100% effective at preventing severe disease and death.
I urged the government, especially the National Security Council (MKN), to step up its effort to curb such fake news via SMS by educating the public and addressing the misleading information head-on. We need good infographics and short videos that deal directly with COVID19 related fake news. The public must be able to share the information easily across commonly used social platforms such as WhatsApp’s, Facebook, Telegram, etc. We need to have a dedicated website and WhatsApp group where users can easily share fake news they received for investigation and to be countered swiftly with factual information. The websites that promote fake news must be identified and blocked by MCMC.
Covid-19 hospitalizations could rise again as many people are missing from their appointments. As for us, to be a responsible citizen, stop sharing, especially when we come across COVID19 related news or media that can cause fear, especially from unknown or unreliable sources. Let us not put others’ lives in danger by causing vaccine hesitancy. We may potentially save the lives of others and our loved ones.
Special assistant to YB Chong Chieng Jen