Our volunteers speak with seven workers at the Cuff Road Project, asking them what comes to mind on the subject of vaccination against Covid-19.

By TWC2 volunteer Chua Wei Ting, with contribution by Nicholas A, based on interviews in March 2021

“Do you know that you can die after you take the vaccine?” is a frighteningly common question posed to me during my interviews. “I saw on Facebook that people in Brazil died after taking the second dose of the vaccine,” says Hossain Md Sadek, adding, “Maybe it’s better if we just take one dose.”

Currently, only the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are approved in Singapore and both require two doses to be effective. Some of the guys we speak to seem unaware of this requirement. As for the specific science behind the different vaccines, they appear to know even less.

More worryingly, misinformation about potential side effects may be common among our seven interviewees, giving rise to a possible undercurrent of reluctance. Islam Md Sazzad, for example, tells me that he does not want to take the vaccine as he is afraid of vaccine-induced physical problems several years down the road. When asked about the risk of contracting Covid-19, he shares that he is fearful of it, but more so of the vaccine’s long-term side effects.

Yet, ten minutes after leaving our meal station, Sazzad returns to inform me that he has changed his mind and will want to be vaccinated. It’s funny how attitudes can shift almost as lightly as the direction of wind.

However, further discussion with the men reassures us despite their opening statements. We detect a general consensus among our seven men that the vaccines available in Singapore are safe. Many regularly follow updates by the Ministry of Health (MOH) on their website and social media accounts, with Islam Saiful asserting that “everybody follows MOH on Facebook”. Hossain echoes this sentiment, sharing that he reads the MOH website on a daily basis and that “all his friends” do the same. There is trust in government announcements.

Nonetheless, it is imperative that the vaccination programme keeps a close watch on vaccine hesitancy among migrant workers living in dormitories. Munshi Md Al Amin was informed 15 days ago by a friend in Punggol that the vaccination programme has begun for construction workers. The friend has received his first dose. Given that the programme has started, the authorities and NGOs must act fast to dispel any possible mistrust about the vaccine.

Migrant workers tend to consume media in their own languages, so merely putting out information in English may not reach them. Amarjeet Singh, for one, says he barely has any information about vaccination and says that he has heard no news about the vaccination programme from MOH or the Ministry of Manpower (MOM). When workers consume media in their own languages, the information may come from their home countries or from unregulated groups on social media. These can be key sources of false information, or the narratives in these channels can turn alarmist on a single unverified anecdote.

What also comes through in our quick interviews is that many workers rely on their peers for information, which can be good or bad. Islam Saiful says he is encouraged by his vaccinated friend who showed no symptoms despite coming across rampant waves of misinformation online.

For now, the attitudes of our tiny sample of workers towards the vaccine remain quite positive and can be summed up in Dewan Sonet’s eager declaration: “Can take anytime”. Most of them demonstrate trust in Singapore’s medical facilities and resources – Amarjeet says that “the government is good”, while Kamruzzaman Md takes it one step further, sharing his opinion that being vaccinated in Singapore is “safer than in Bangladesh”.

These remarks culled from just seven workers may not be representative, so a group of other TWC2 volunteers is organising a small research project to better investigate attitudes among migrant workers towards vaccination.