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Socio-cultural values in managing risk communication during the COVID-19 pandemic in Indonesia

The significant factors influencing the public’s perception of the “risk” concept are cultural values and social and traditional beliefs that form public views towards risk situations. Taking the cue from previous research on risk communication management in Asia, the present study discusses how administrative regional governments such as Surabaya City and the East Java Provincial authorities in Indonesia have conceptualized risk management. It pertains to how risk, particularly the COVID-19 vaccine, is assessed, regulated, and controlled in these places since communication and guidelines regarding the vaccine play an essential role in any stage of risk management processes.

Thus, this study examines and analyses how risk communication management protocols and models have been understood through evidence-based and theory-informed research as an assessment form of the existing model and regulations. It also attempts to contribute to the risk-informed policymaking by the regional government. It provides recommendations for developing risk communication management and preparing to manage the COVID-19 vaccine risk issues for the public, which has not been studied yet by scholars in this province and in Indonesia in general.

The implementation of the vaccination program by the provincial and city governments is done by approaching the authority of the village and local residency (termed as Kelurahan), which is considered closer to the general people rather than the central government. It is typically a phenomenon in society that the people trust village-based authorities or local representatives more than Indonesia’s local and regional governments. Likewise, belief in vaccines is still low due to religious and certain ethnic beliefs, so one needs to approach village leaders to persuade people to participate in the vaccination programs.

More importantly, the religious and traditional methods of approaching people should turn out to be significant in encouraging people to be willing to get vaccinated. However, only a few were eager to do so. On the island of Madura (adjacent to Surabaya City), for example, the vaccine could not be implemented because their religious and ethnic leaders showed resistance to the vaccine or the vaccination program. As a result, the Madurese people were also resistant to being vaccinated.

However, this model of risk communication needs to be well-designed and planned. We found that the provincial and city governments have provided only a few documents, except the Governor of East Java and Surabaya Mayor’s circulars, as a formal bureaucratic procedure to implement a free mass vaccination program.

The vaccination program implementation needed to be more organized, and the implementation decision was delayed without any planning and preparation of documents for risk management scenarios. This has exemplified the typical action of bureaucratic management in the central government and regional governments. This is also why such countries, like Indonesia, fail to protect their citizens’ lives, ensure the safety and health of the society during disasters, pandemics or particularly these COVID-19 pandemic outbreaks and keep a risk society under threat.

Author: Prof. Rachmah Ida

Direct link: https://doi.org/10.1080/23311886.2023.2287288