GEORGE TOWN, March 17 — Around 70 per cent of the population must be vaccinated against Covid-19 for Malaysia to achieve herd immunity against the coronavirus but this will be difficult if Malaysians are reluctant to register for the vaccination, health experts warned.
They warned that falling short of this target would mean that those unable to be vaccinated, such as children and adults with certain medical conditions, would remain exposed to Covid-19.
AIMST University’s School of Medicine Assoc Professor Dr Saraswathi Bina Rai pointed out that children will not be vaccinated under the National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme as current vaccines were not yet approved for use in minors.
“There is a misconception that children could not contract Covid-19; that is not true, they are equally vulnerable if exposed,” she said.
She said since children and those with possible allergies will not receive protection from the vaccines, the onus was on adults who could be vaccinated safely to do their part to achieve the herd immunity needed to protect these groups.
She added that there have been cases reported where children developed multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C) that was linked to the Covid-19 virus.
“We do not want our children to be exposed to the virus unnecessarily,” she said.
Dr Saraswathi said it was important to not to be lulled by low infection numbers among minors as she said this was more likely attributable to the early closure of schools in Malaysia whenever the number of cases spiked.
“There was less exposure for the children as they stayed home more naturally, there were less cases involving children but this does not mean they are immune to the virus,” she said.
Waiting for others to be vaccinated in order for Malaysia to reach herd immunity was not feasible, she said when pointing out that there was no reliable way to tell who would be vaccinated in any given area.
Dr Saraswathi also explained that herd immunity was only possible if the majority of the country accept the vaccines.
“For example, there is a group of 10 people but only two of them are vaccinated. So, if one infected person joins the group, the person could have easily come into contact with any of the eight who were not vaccinated and from infecting the second person, they can then spread to the others who were not vaccinated,” she said.
However, in a different scenario where eight out of the 10 were vaccinated and one infected case were to join them, the person would not be able to spread it to any of the eight who were vaccinated, thus protecting the two who were not vaccinated.
“The vaccine is now being given out free, at the taxpayers’ expense, so I do not see why people refuse to be vaccinated now,” she said.
Separately, Galen Centre for Health & Social Policy chief executive officer Azrul Mohd Khalib likened vaccination to doing one’s part for the country and community.
“There will always be people who will be unable to be vaccinated due to their specific medical condition or circumstances which disqualify them from receiving the vaccine,” he said.
Therefore, to protect this group of people, he said the rest who can be vaccinated should do so.
“Herd immunity can only be achieved if we opt in. If many of us were to opt out, we will not be able to reach that critical level,” he said.
He said there is no reasonable argument or constructive reason for people to wait to register to be vaccinated.
“The sooner a person is registered into the system, the sooner she or he can be assessed and provided with an assigned slot to be vaccinated,” he said.
He said this is important and necessary to ensure that those who are vulnerable and at risk of developing serious complications due to Covid-19 can be identified, prioritised and protected, especially older people and those with chronic illnesses such as cancer or kidney disease.
“We cannot risk leaving such people unprotected and vulnerable. They could be your loved ones, parents, family members or spouse,” he said.
He said the aim should be at least 60 per cent of the population to be vaccinated but a comfortable percentage would be 80 per cent which is the government’s target.
While the impact of the vaccines on the spread of the coronavirus has yet to be ascertained, Azrul said the vaccines were proven to prevent the progression of Covid-19 into serious complications and illness that could be fatal.
“What we currently know is that vaccines save lives,” he said.
Malaysia has a total population of 32.7 million as at 2020 and only slightly more than 16 per cent have registered for the vaccination.
Seventy per cent of the population meant around 22 million Malaysians will need to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity.
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