In the interior of the Ulu Baram area in Sarawak, the Kenyah community has been busy preparing for the arrival of Covid-19 vaccine supplies and the eagerly anticipated rollout of the vaccination drive there.
Many pitched in to help clean up the clinic ahead of the arrival of the Flying Doctor medical vaccination team which was due to land on Saturday.
Ngerong Sigau and his two cousins, Ukeng Lian and Merang Eban, were among those waiting in line with their sleeves rolled up.
They had double checked to make sure they had all the necessary documents before volunteering to receive the Sinovac vaccine.
After the jab was administered, it was as though a weight had been lifted from their shoulders.
“It’s like being born a second time,” 50-year-old Ngerong told MalaysiaNow.
“We woke up before sunrise because we were so eager to be vaccinated.”
His primary emotion now is that of relief.
“We are very thankful to receive the vaccine because we’ve been waiting for our turn.”
But he is also anxious for the rest of the village to be inoculated against the virus which has so far claimed nearly 5,500 lives in the country.
“I want my people here in Long Moh to also volunteer to be vaccinated. That is why we need to be in the line,” he said.
So far, the response has been encouraging. But Ngerong’s cousin William, in Miri, said some were still reluctant to get jabbed.
“The older ones are worried about the side effects of the vaccine because of the misinformation going around,” he said.
But he is hopeful that this will change. “I believe they will change their minds soon.”
Telung Usan statesman Dennis Ngau agreed, saying the increase in the number of people getting vaccinated had sparked the excitement of many to get inoculated against the virus.
“This is especially so among three communities: the Kenyah, the Kayan and the Kelabit,” he told MalaysiaNow.
In Baram, nearly 90% of these communities have received a first dose of vaccine, he said.
He said vaccine hesitancy seems to be the highest among the Penans, only 10% of whom have been willing to be jabbed so far.
“The Penans have remained the most resistant to the vaccine, I think because of their fear of the injection needle,” he said.
In the meantime, though, the community in Ulu Baram continues to celebrate each step forward in the vaccination journey.
On Saturday, Ukeng Lian brought his son, who has speaking disabilities, to the clinic to be vaccinated. On Sunday, he brought his daughter who is also a special needs person.
As the vaccination programme continues, he and his family hope that more and more will come forward with their sleeves rolled to receive their jabs.