Tuesday, March 2

Vaccine rollout Malaysia’s best shot at ending pandemic

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(From left) Dr Chen Chee Kean, Dr Dhayal Balakrishnan, Dr William Voon and Dr Lau Kim Kah.

AROUND 25.6 million Malaysians are expected to receive the Covid-19 vaccines in phases once the National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme is rolled out nationwide by early March.

As one of the initiatives to be implemented under the Malaysian Economic and Rakyat’s Protection Assistance Package (Permai), the programme will be carried out in three phases with more than 600 storage cum vaccination centres to be opened throughout the country.

Using the first batch of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines set to arrive at the end of this month, some 500,000 medical and non-medical frontliners will receive their shots under the first phase which is scheduled to be completed in April.

The second phase, to be carried out from April to August, comprises high-risk groups such as senior citizens aged 60 and above; those with morbidities like heart disease, obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure; and the disabled.

For adults aged 18 and above, they will be immunised under the third phase, to be carried out from May until February 2022.

Healthcare practitioners in Kuching generally have welcomed the government’s swift efforts in securing Covid-19 vaccines for the people to expedite recovery from the pandemic.

Consultant anesthesiologist Dr Chen Chee Kean said Covid-19 vaccination is crucial to controlling the current pandemic situation in the country.

“The persistent high number of new Covid-19 cases after the first wave warrants our government to provide vaccination across the nation as soon as possible.

“Given the high number of new cases in the country since late last year until now, there is actually an urgent need for rapid, high levels of vaccine uptake among vulnerable persons,” he said.

With the impending arrival of the vaccine in Malaysia, Dr Chen suggested that the Ministry of Health allocate adequate human resources to carry out the vaccination across the nation at an acceptable speed.

“The logistics of vaccination from the entry into our country to the receivers’ end should be well-planned ahead for the best interest of all Malaysians.

“Information and education on Covid-19 vaccinations should also be widely available through the media for the ease of patients, as many still have doubts on the effectiveness and side effect of the vaccines,” he added.

He also said that with the various degrees of effectiveness from different brands of vaccines in reducing the severity of infectivity, the government should be vigilant in carrying out the current available protocols to further bring down new cases.

Under the RM15-billion Permai stimulus package which was unveiled by Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin on Jan 18, the government is providing an additional RM1 billion for supplies, including reagents, screening kits and personal protective equipment, of which RM800 million will be allocated to the Ministry of Health.

The government will also, through an additional allocation of RM150 million, recruit a further 3,500 healthcare personnel comprising assistant medical officers, paramedics, nurses and lab technicians.

In addition, RM100 million is allocated to enhance cooperation between the public and private sectors to combat Covid-19, with private hospitals agreeing to receive and treat both Covid-19 and non-Covid-19 patients to ease the strain on the public healthcare system.

In terms of screening, the government through Permai has expanded the tax relief relating to full health screening expenses to include expenses for Covid-19 screening.

Meanwhile, clinical and interventional radiologist Dr Dhayal Balakrishnan encourages the public to come forward and get themselves vaccinated, saying this is the best option to bring down the number of Covid-19 cases in the country.

“For most vaccinations, the side effects will always be there. But as always, benefits will always outweigh the risks. We should be grateful that the immunisation is free for all Malaysians,” he said.

Given that people may be hesitant or concerned about the safety of the newly-developed Covid-19 vaccines, Dr Dhayal said the public should be educated and informed on the vaccine that will be administered to help them understand the process as well as ease any reservations.

“Most immunisations will have a questionnaire prior to the administration (of the vaccine) and educational pamphlets regarding the vaccine should be given in all languages to the public,” he said.

Medical practitioner Dr William Voon said the government’s Covid-19 immunisation schedule is in line with vaccination campaigns carried out by other countries to combat the pandemic.

However, he said the vaccine ought to be thoroughly studied before it is approved for administration.

“All current Covid-19 vaccines so far are only tested for immediate side effects. What about long-term side effects?

“Several vaccines are produced by new methods involving tweaking with RNA and DNA. We cannot say definitely they will not end up with near-term or long-term complications.

“There have been such lethal side effects observed before in the UK when DNA was tampered with. We really hope there won’t be long-term effects from these vaccines,” he said.

Nevertheless, Dr Voon commended the government for providing the vaccine free of charge to all Malaysians, saying it was vital to vaccinate enough of the population to achieve herd immunity.

“It remains for the Ministry of Health not only to acquire the vaccine as soon as possible but to implement the mass vaccination effectively,” he added.

At the same time, he said the public need to be made aware that even after vaccination, they are not safe from Covid-19.

“The main benefit they will get from vaccination at present is a milder and shorter infection. In time, hopefully, the vaccines can prevent infection altogether,” he said.

On the phases of the National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme, Dr Voon has urged the government to consider allowing immediate family members of frontliners to be vaccinated earlier.

“I strongly feel that between phases one and two, we should vaccinate the immediate family members of the frontliners. They have been totally left out and yet, they are the ones the frontliners go home to everyday,” he pointed out.

Meanwhile, psychiatrist Dr Lau Kim Kah said the roll-out of the vaccine is something Malaysians have been waiting for, as it could spell the end of the pandemic and see lives return to normal.

“The Covid-19 outbreak has not only affected the physical wellbeing of the people but also taken an unprecedented toll on mental health. It has been a stressful time for all of us,” he said.

However, he pointed out that anticipating the arrival of the vaccine can also make people all the more impatient and more stressed, hence the importance of managing this period of stress especially the interval between the first and second dose of the vaccine.

“We must also not forget that we still need to continue practising the various SOPs (standard operating procedures) during the pandemic,” he said, adding that there is a need to manage the people’s expectation of what the Covid-19 vaccine can do.

Dr Lau also believes that priority for vaccination should be given to people who are suffering from severe mental disorders, as studies have shown that they are at higher risk of contracting Covid-19 and developing more severe disease.

For further information, please refer to http;//belanjawan2021.treasury.gov.my/manfaat/.

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