Delivering hope and means to end the Covid-19 pandemic

Mohd Ghows Mohd Azzam
·4-min read
A worker performs a quality check in the packaging facility of Chinese vaccine maker Sinovac Biotech, developing an experimental coronavirus disease vaccine, during a government-organised media tour in Beijing, China, September 24, 2020. — Reuters pic
A worker performs a quality check in the packaging facility of Chinese vaccine maker Sinovac Biotech, developing an experimental coronavirus disease vaccine, during a government-organised media tour in Beijing, China, September 24, 2020. — Reuters pic

COMMENTARY — As the plane majestically painted with Jalur Gemilang lands in KLIA, carrying our first batch of Pfizer vaccine tomorrow (February 21, 2021), all eyes are now on the rollout of the National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme, the biggest exercise in living history.

On February 16, 2021, the Prime Minister launched the Program Imunisasi Covid-19 Kebangsaan (National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme) which details not only on the immunisation plan rollout but also the incoming vaccine supplies, policy, implementation methods, and supply chain coordination. The Prime Minister emphasised that the immunisation programme adopts a “whole of government and society approach”, namely that everyone plays a role to ensure its success. This includes the frontliners administering the vaccines, the delivery personnel along the supply chain, and the public themselves who should come forward and get vaccinated when their turn comes.

The National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme document is a front-facing document for the public, aiming to raise awareness and understanding. It is downloadable at https://www.vaksincovid.gov.my. The Bahasa Malaysia and English versions are currently available with Mandarin and Tamil versions coming shortly to ensure language accessibility. So far, this document has been well received by many, and it is also in line with the documents produced by other countries such as the United Kingdom and Singapore.

The document includes boxes with common questions like “What is a vaccine?”, “What is the fatwa for Covid-19 vaccination?” and “Why is it for those aged 18 years and above only?” throughout the document, and have been placed strategically in each section.

The two sections that members of the public will likely be of interest are the Malaysia’s Covid-19 vaccine portfolio and vaccine policy, which contains the different phases of vaccination. While several questions highlighted in the document may seem basic to some, they are in fact among the most frequently asked. We cannot take for granted that this vaccination process is novel for most of society. Hence, addressing the fears, misconceptions, and fake news is vital to gain the public’s confidence which is crucial to the immunisation programme’s success.

It is no coincidence that the tagline for the immunisation programme is Lindung Diri, Lindung Semua (Protect Self, Protect All). It is a reminder that getting everyone vaccinated — Malaysians and non-Malaysians alike — is key in overcoming this pandemic.

The immunisation programme was crafted by the Ministry of Health, and will be executed by the Covid-19 Immunisation Taskforce (CITF). This is where attention to detail will be required. The deployment of vaccines will be done strategically, depending to very dynamic and constantly evolving factors. Hence, although the general categories of vaccine recipients according to the different phases were mentioned in the programme, there may be situations where certain groups are prioritised, subject to sufficient vaccine supply. This can be either for pandemic control measures, prioritising certain groups such as teachers, cleaners, or the clergy (imams and priest). Risk assessments are required to determine this, which may include exposure propensity and potentiality to spread Covid-19. Undoubtedly, the factors change daily depending on the Covid-19 situation in the country.

Effective implementation of the immunisation programme will be key, and the implementation requires enough flexibility in order to mitigate future outbreaks and keep the case numbers low. This is why there isn’t so much details in the document regarding this. The CITF will be consistently monitoring the situation daily and will make decisions based on the data and advice from the expert panel. The public can rest assure that everyone involved behind the scenes is doing their best to put this challenging programme into motion to end this pandemic.

The plane with the Jalur Gemilang will not only be carrying Malaysia’s first batch of vaccines, it also carries a sense of hope — it symbolises the light at the end of the tunnel, beyond which is the end of this pandemic. The past one year has been challenging for everyone, starting from the first Covid-19 patient in Malaysia on the January 25, 2020 then going into the first MCO on March 18, 2020, and now, the vaccines are finally coming, at the end of our second MCO. That said, this will be the first of many vaccines that are coming. This is the testament of the Government’s effort to secure the vaccines for Malaysia with negotiations begun in April 2020 and the first deal signed in November 2020.

Now, it is game time, implementation will be key, coordination will be crucial, and support from everyone will be paramount. This whole-of-society approach aims to rally the whole country together to beat this pandemic, and the light at the end of the tunnel will be nearer as we progress together. Lindung Diri, Lindung Semua.

* Associate Professor Dr Mohd Ghows Mohd Azzam is the Science Advisor to the Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation

** This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.

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