How language chauvinism is hurting the vaccine rollout

·2-min read

MAY 19 — Having it confirmed by doctors that people are turning down vaccines because they weren't the specific ones they wanted is disheartening.

I thought that it was a questionable and somewhat hilarious anecdote that some Malaysian Chinese were waiting for Sinovac.

It's not funny anymore.

The reasoning seems to be that it is safer and that you won't be able to easily travel to China if you are vaccinated with anything but a China-produced vaccine.

Part of that is the relentless messaging sent out by China via its official channels such as CGTV and its newswires.

A worker performs a quality check in the packaging facility of Chinese vaccine maker Sinovac Biotech, developing an experimental coronavirus disease vaccine, during a government-organised media tour in Beijing, China, September 24, 2020. — Reuters pic
A worker performs a quality check in the packaging facility of Chinese vaccine maker Sinovac Biotech, developing an experimental coronavirus disease vaccine, during a government-organised media tour in Beijing, China, September 24, 2020. — Reuters pic

It annoys me that the CCP seems to be doing a better job at spreading vaccine awareness than our government.

Part of this stems from our government's pivot to only releasing official statements in Bahasa Malaysia and maybe, once in a while, English.

Of course the language nationalists will just say, “Well then, who asked you not to know/pay attention to Bahasa material?”

The reality is we are a multiethnic and multilingual nation ― the constant comparison to countries such as Indonesia with its forced assimilation of natives and the other-ing of non-Bahasa tongues do not do us any favour.

Am sure some would think the answer would be to just ban foreign transmissions and employ more people just to control and censure what they see.

That will not work. Trying to stop the inflow of foreign news would be, for us, like trying to stop a tidal wave with a tarp.

Unless of course we try to build our own local equivalent of the Great Firewall of China which is hilarious when we can't even stop hackers from defacing government websites.

Look at how our former prime minister and current foreign minister are making public statements in English, knowing their message will travel further in that language. Because that is the surest way for them to avoid misinterpretation and assure clarity.

Why can we not do that for our own people?

Bahasa Malaysia is not one of my two mother tongues and that is the simple reality for many Malaysians, in West Malaysia as well as Sabah and Sarawak.

Why can we spend so much money on jetting our politicians overseas to be unpaid janitors and not make the time and effort to propagate vaccine awareness messages in various languages?

We do not have the time nor the option to be vaccine shopping ― the best vaccine is the one you can get right now and until we get that message to all our citizens, regardless of ethnicity, we will never win over this virus.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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