By Khoo Ying Hooi
As a consumer, we are fully aware when it comes to choices; brands matter for many. Brand trust has become an important competitive differentiator.
What makes a brand trustworthy to consumers? There are many reasons, and one of the common one is, it receives good ratings and reviews.
Naturally, following that line of logic, consumers will turn to the brand first when making their choice.
Now let me bring that discourse to the issue of vaccines. I am certain many of you might have received this form of question, "Which COVID-19 vaccine did you get?"
This is a question that all of us continue to ask and hear as vaccine rollout continues. This brings me to the issue I would like to discuss in this column: does the brand of COVID-19 vaccine matter?
In Malaysia, we have three brands in the market: Pfizer, Sinovac and AstraZeneca.
Pfizer is considered the most "branded" and hence, the popular preference because it is believed that they have less adverse side effects. Sinovac ranks the second, and AstraZeneca is the least favorite due to its bad reputation of potential blood clots.
Everyone would remember the madness with AstraZeneca where it was given on voluntary basis twice before it is officially allocated into the national vaccination program.
The vaccine rollout plan in Malaysia started off rather slow, and with the increase of cases, people get anxious as they were afraid of not being able to secure a vaccine appointment. The second call for AstraZeneca in May left many being frustrated due to the technical fault.
As time goes by, when Malaysia started to receive more supplies, some of us got really picky and wanted to make our own choice. For instance, by not appearing in the appointment date, as we wanted to have our preference brand.
A quick look at social media will tell you how people associate themselves with the vaccine brands.
Many of us do that unconsciously or sometimes unintentionally, but looking into the matter in a more in-depth manner, that reveals issues that we face.
The fight on vaccine brand reveals somehow the flaws of how the government implements the vaccination plan. Although guidelines are given, in few instances there are cases where people without any appointment is given the vaccine when they accompany family members to the vaccination center.
Disinformation and misinformation is another culprit as everyone shares their own views on the vaccines.
Recently, the World Health Organization (WHO) backed the Duterte administration's policy not to announce vaccine brands to be used at the inoculation centers to avoid people making their own preference for a certain brand.
This step was triggered by the episode of people flocking to a shopping mall in Metro Manila to get the Pfizer vaccine.
As I quote from Rabindra Abeyasinghe, the WHO representative to the Philippines, "The brand-agnostic policy would help in preventing crowds and would also convince people to get whatever vaccine is available."
On the similar consideration, just recently, the Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said Malaysians would not be able to choose which vaccine they want. The vaccines will instead be allocated according to the government's vaccination plan based on the storage requirements and the vaccination centers as identified by the Ministry of Health.
I concede to this call simply because the preferences for vaccine brands could become another hurdle for the overall rollout.
To ensure this to be followed, there is also a need for the authorities of implementing the guidelines as they announced, to avoid any form of double standard or irregularities.
So which vaccine brand should you get? The answer is straightforward. All three vaccines that are currently available in Malaysia have been shown to be safe and effective.
In other words, it does not matter which vaccine we get, and any option is far better than none at all. After all, we do not know if we are going to have the opportunity to get the vaccine we want. Instead, it is critical that everyone simply gets vaccinated for the time being.
(Khoo Ying Hooi is Universiti Malaya Senior Lecturer.)