Trust the Shot

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WITH the rapid development and distribution of the Covid-19 vaccine, the anxious wait is over. But with anti-vaccine ideologies growing, governments  are facing the next obstacle – getting the global population immunised.

As the only science media outlet in Malaysia, The Petri Dish team is launching an awareness campaign on vaccinations. Vaccines are our only long lasting weapon to fight this pandemic. It is predicted that around 70% of the global population has to be vaccinated to chase the virus into hibernation. But it will not go away. However, we can control it so that future endemics are less severe.

Amidst a global pandemic, the spread of misinformation and a lack of public awareness have given rise to the so-called “infodemic” – where inaccurate information is widely available and spreads quickly. Social media discussions clearly reflect vaccine concerns and reluctance among the public. This is alarming, so The Petri Dish is launching its own vaccine campaign named TrustTheShot. The campaign will run on The Petri Dish Instagram and other social media accounts belonging to Malaysian Biotechnology Information Centre (MABIC).

The idea was proposed by Dr Mahaletchumy Arujanan, the editor-in-chief of The Petri Dish and internationally renowned science communicator. “Anti-vaccination movements and ideologies are not new. It is a longstanding issue in public health. We have seen many preventable diseases re-emerging, especially among children. It is time to arrest this misinformation, especially when Covid-19 has taken 1.9 million lives around the globe”, says  Mahaletchumy.

As the situation looks alarming in Malaysia, Mahaletchumy gathered her interns at MABIC to be the comrades to fight the misconception. With all of them trained in the biological sciences, TrustTheShot aims to collate credible and science-based information on vaccines and disseminate this information to the public.

Nishat Anan, the head of the project, says “We can all agree that social media is a massive tool to achieve so much in our society. However, its misuse at times like these can get dangerous. It’s exciting to lead this impressive initiative of The Petri Dish to make sure everyone of us is able to understand and trust the role of vaccinations.”

The campaign will run with daily posts on The Petri Dish Instagram (@thepetridish), and aims to cover a wide range of topics surrounding vaccines. It will provide an insight into the historical and biological perspectives of vaccines in general, and will also address specific public concerns regarding the Covid-19 vaccine.

MABIC’s project manager, Saarani Vengadesen says “I am excited to be part of this project because I see this as an opportunity to save lives by raising awareness on vaccines. The frontliners are battling with the pandemic, and it is exciting to be the ones to battle the infodemic.”

Social media has driven the “infodemic”, causing panic and uncertainty about vaccines. Sprouting conspiracy theories, unproven home remedies, and misleading claims. Conveying reliable and accurate information to the public is what the TrustTheShot campaign aims to do in tackling vaccine misconceptions.

Zakwan Zarudin, an undergraduate from Sunway University who is part of the content writing team, says “While the frontliners are fighting the pandemic, it is equally important for us as a society to play our part in this situation. It is even more exciting to be part of a campaign that will truly make an impact on people’s perspectives on vaccines, not just Covid-19 but all vaccines.”

The Petri Dish team realises that the key to combating misinformation is not by simply releasing facts and figures, but to explain and engage with the audience. Igniting a discussion amongst the public, and to provide the general public with the right information to make informed decisions on vaccines is the right path to arrest vaccine misinformation.

Aishwarya Vignesweran, a Monash University Malaysia graduate also part of the content writing team, says “I’m extremely excited to see what others will gain from this interesting and informative campaign. I think it is important for us to know the role of vaccines and how they can improve our wellbeing. It is also exciting that this campaign highlights the importance of science communication.”

Vaccines have been saviours since the 10th century, but its success has never convinced everyone to accept it. They have saved an uncountable number of lives since its introduction to the society. Major diseases are now slowly being controlled, and some even eradicated and with rapid advancements in science and technology, it is now more important than ever to put a halt to the misconceptions on vaccines.