Why make boosters mandatory for migrant workers?

The Covid-19 Pandemic seems to be coming to an end. The enforcement of protective and preventive measures such as the use of face masks outside the home, sanitizers, and frequent hand washing has been relaxed and limited to a few places like hospitals. Social functions are taking place without the fuss of temperature checks; ‘quarantine’ is now a rarely heard word, and no one is strongly advocating vaccination or boosters. We have been told the Covid-19 virus has become endemic like the common cold, and for most people, our immune systems can handle it without outside help.

So the Health Minister’s instruction to vaccinate the migrant worker population with booster doses against Covid 19 is unsettling to say the least. The background to this is even more startling. Pharmaniaga, the sole distributor of the Covid-19 vaccines in the country made a loss; the total value of its shares decreased by RM216 mil in a week because of slow moving vaccines. Pharmaniaga’s CEO proposed using the vaccines as boosters for migrant workers. That led to the decision to make employers pay for administering the booster shots for their migrant workers. Employers expectedly are in a frenzy at the prospects of having to bear the cost of the booster shots and related expenses.

The decision to vaccinate migrant workers appears to be based on cold business considerations only. Pharmaniaga made losses, the health Ministry stepped in to rescue them, and employers are protesting the new burden of cost on themselves.

How about the migrant workers? Do they really need the booster? Was the health and well-being of the workers a concern at all? It is common knowledge that many Malaysians have refused to take the second booster shot citing their fears of side effects, among other reasons. Uptake of the second booster among Malaysians is less than 3% as of January 2023. In such circumstances, is it ethical to make the boosters mandatory for migrant workers?

Then there is the related question of whether the older versions of the Covid vaccine are effective against the new strains of the virus. So the Ministry of Health is going to force the 2 million odd migrant workers in the country to take a vaccine that may not give them much protection against the current strains of Covid but which might cause side effects in some number of them?

If Pharmaniaga had no vaccines left, would the Health Ministry push for migrant workers to be given booster doses? It flies in the face of common sense and justice to come out with a health directive – mandatory booster shots for migrant workers – that is based, not on the best interests of the workers targeted, but instead on the desire to bail out a government linked company.

It would be acceptable to offer these vaccines to migrant workers who are keen to take them, but making the booster shot mandatory for migrant workers is nothing less than dumping unsold, obsolete goods on a powerless community. Migrant worker sending country embassies should play their role, and not remain silent.

Parti Sosialis Malaysia calls on the government to back away from this poorly thought through proposal.

Rani Rasiah
Migrant Desk
Parti Sosialis Malaysia

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