KUALA LUMPUR, June 17 — National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme Coordinating Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said he was now avoiding the term “herd immunity” as he expected Covid-19 to become prevalent in the foreseeable future.
Despite “herd immunity” being the main target of the NIP and its continued use by the country’s leaders, Khairy said it was likely that Covid-19 would become endemic in the country.
An endemic disease is one that is prevalent or native to a particular location.
“I have stopped using that term, the other leaders are still using the term herd immunity, but I have advised the prime minister to be careful when using the term herd immunity.
“Simply because my view, as the coordinating minister, looking at the data and the science, this may very well be endemic and we may see Covid-19 in a less threatening form but it will stay with us for quite some time,” he said.
Khairy made these remarks during a webinar organised by the Oxford & Cambridge Alumni Network Malaysia, adding that he now preferred to use the term “immunise”, and recognised that vaccines were not a guaranteed solution to the pandemic.
The NIP has set a target of vaccinating 80 per cent of the country to achieve “herd immunity” against Covid-19.
“We will try to immunise as widely as possible. I think the focus on vaccination, while crucial, may actually be slightly misleading because I do believe it's one tool in an arsenal of measures that you actually require,” he said during the virtual interview.
Khairy said moving forward, he expected Covid-19 to remain within the community, with rapid and cheaper testing being part of everyday life in the country.
He also predicted that masks and social distancing would remain.
“As far as Malaysia’s public health consideration goes, we are very conservative and careful when removing non-pharmaceutical interventions for the public here in Malaysia.
“At the same time we have been making a lot of inroads into looking at test kits; what the world or what Malaysia will look like in 2022 is a mixture of people who have been fully vaccinated as well as rapid test kits that can be used on a daily basis.
“I think we need to introduce that as part of our lives, just like taking a quick temperature test, or a quick saliva test,” he said.
Khairy said discussions were being held with neighbours Singapore on cooperation to develop a Covid-19 breathalyser test that was originally developed on the island nation.
Also during the webinar, Khairy conceded what he perceived to be a misstep on his part, which was deciding to open up vaccine registrations to all Malaysians, young and old, despite the priority to vaccinate the elderly in the first phase.
He said Malaysia should have taken pointers from places like the United Kingdom or Singapore who opened up vaccine registrations in stages according to age groups, in retrospect, to have avoided questions from those not yet given their vaccine appointments yet.
“From key learnings, a misstep that I made was when we opened up registration on the 23rd of February to everyone and because we did that, obviously a lot of people registered on February 23rd, including the young people.
“So I think in terms of managing expectations, I may have made an error there," he said.