Health experts say Putrajaya should mitigate Covid-19 vaccine delivery delays

·4-min read
A nurse administers a dose of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine at the Dewan Gemilang UKM vaccination centre in Bangi May 5, 2021. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon
A nurse administers a dose of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine at the Dewan Gemilang UKM vaccination centre in Bangi May 5, 2021. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon

KUALA LUMPUR, May 10 — The government should take active measures to ensure the delayed arrival of Covid-19 vaccines does not jeopardise the National Immunisation Programme, health experts said.

After coordinating minister Khairy Jamaluddin revealed that the main phase of the NIP could be delayed due to the slow delivery of the vaccines, the health experts said the government could try to minimise the effects of these delays as much as possible.

Among others, Malaysia could discuss with countries that have already have a high vaccination rate to yield their shipments and ensure Malaysians could at least get their first doses sooner, said Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) president Prof Datuk Dr Subramaniam Muniandy.

“The other option is to delay the second dose so more people get at least partial protection with the first dose,’’ he told Malay Mail.

“This is possible with the Pfizer vaccine as studies show 65 per cent protection after the first dose. No such studies for Sinovac, so delaying the second dose is not an option for Sinovac,’’ he added.

Dr Subramaniam also pointed out that vaccine hesitancy would only be an issue once a significant proportion of the country has been vaccinated, by which time Malaysia’s vaccine supply should already be more regular.

“Vaccine hesitancy will not really be evident until 50-60 per cent of the population is vaccinated. To overcome it, the government can use persuasion and education, but opening up travel and social activities to the fully vaccinated will also help motivate people,’’ he said.

Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Khairy disclosed during a press conference last week that Phase Three of the NIP could start later than scheduled as Malaysia has yet to receive the vaccines needed for its implementation.

Phase Three is the primary phase of the programme for all adult Malaysians who are not frontliners or in at-risk categories.

During his disclosure, Khairy stressed that one of the main reasons the Covid-19 vaccine supply in Malaysia remains low is due to wealthier nations cornering the market.

The revelation took some lustre of the government’s successful opt-in programme for the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine that was carved out from the NIP after its inclusion heightened vaccine hesitancy.

The AstraZeneca vaccine has been linked to blood clots in extremely rare numbers of around eight in every million cases or 0.0008 per cent, but these were still enough to cause some Malaysians to withdraw from the country’s vaccine drive.

While the government will now expand the opt-in AstraZeneca programme, the main NIP is still facing delivery constraints.

Former MMA president Dr N. Ganabaskaran said the government should also strive to ensure maximum efficiency when dispensing the vaccines that are available, in order to mitigate the supply bottlenecks.

“We have about 7,000 general practitioners (GPs) with their clinics located in all parts of the country. While the issue of facility adequacy to hold the vaccines and logistics could be an issue, the government should look into these issues and include GPs in their vaccine rollout.

“This way, when the vaccine is available, they can be immediately administered to the general public,’’ he said.

Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy chief executive Azrul Mohd Khalid said it was unfortunate that Malaysia was facing delays in the supply of the vaccines but noted that the country could not control how pharmaceutical companies prioritise vaccine deliveries.

“Vaccine deliveries depend on many factors including when the order was made in relation to everyone else, how many doses were ordered, geopolitical considerations, and basically whoever the pharmaceutical companies decide should receive their orders first.

“Even countries such as Singapore which ordered and received their shipments of vaccines far earlier than Malaysia have still not completed their vaccination exercise. Singapore has only managed to vaccinate 19 per cent of its population despite starting in late December 2020.

“The pace of the vaccination programme is dictated by the quantity of vaccine supply that a country has. That is why the UK and the US are ahead of most countries,’’ he said.

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