KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 8 ― Malaysia’s healthcare system is better prepared for the impending wave of Omicron infections but vaccination and booster doses remain the most reliable way to prevent severe cases from overwhelming the country’s medical resources, said a public health expert.
On Thursday, Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said the highly infectious variant of Covid-19 could push Malaysia’s daily cases to as high as 30,000 by the end of March, based on a conservate reproduction rate (R0) of 1.6.
Khairy said that even though the Omicron variant was not as deadly as the Delta variant, such high numbers would inevitably result in enough severe cases to overwhelm Malaysia’s health system that was still recovering.
Dr Sanjay Rampal, a public health medicine specialist and professor of epidemiology at the Department of Social and Preventive Medicine with Universiti Malaya’s Faculty of Medicine, told Malay Mail that Malaysia’s high vaccination rate will pay dividends in such a scenario.
“Our healthcare system is less likely to be overwhelmed now as most of our population aged 12 years and above are vaccinated. The risk of severe disease is significantly reduced in a vaccinated population. The risk of severe disease and death is very low among children younger than 12 years’ old.
“We are likely to observe an increase in baseline cases as the Omicron variant becomes the dominant strain in the coming months.
“Additionally, we may observe a higher total daily case in the next large wave, however, our healthcare system is less likely to be overwhelmed due to the lowered risk of severe disease following vaccination,” he said when contacted.
While previous cases of Omicron had mostly been imported, a growing number of community transmissions have since been detected.
Officially, Malaysia already has 245 confirmed cases of Omicron but the country’s true level of exposure has still to be determined.
The country’s largest blindspot has been Malaysians returning from performing the umrah pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia, dozens of whom went on to breach their home quarantine orders.
On Thursday, the Health Ministry also disclosed that 14 per cent of of the pilgrims infected with Omicron had somehow managed to complete their umrah pilgrimage despite not being vaccinated as required.
The Health Ministry has since suspended umrah tours, after concluding that 85 per cent of the 1,842 Covid-19 cases detected among arrivals at the KLIA involved those flying into Malaysia from Saudi Arabia.
A recent study published on The Lancet Regional Health website found that between February 24 and September 14, 2021, Malaysia recorded 20,823 Covid-19 deaths.
The median age for all deaths was 61. Most deaths happened in the 60-69 age group with males outnumbering females 1.33:1, and was notably higher among the unvaccinated.
Dr Rampal said such findings made it imperative for the authorities and medical professionals to continue advocating for booster doses to all those eligible.
Currently, Malaysia offers booster doses to all adults who have completed their primary vaccinations at least three months ago.
“The boosters are important for those who are older due to higher reduction of the absolute risk of severe disease. I highly recommend all those who are older than 50 years and those with any condition that heightens their risk of severe disease to get their boosters,” he added.
Uptake of the booster doses has been accelerating after the Health Ministry allowed homologous boosters in some cases, following concerns among some sections of the country over mixing vaccine types.
However, health authorities both in Malaysia and globally, including the World Health Organisation, have recommended heterologous boosters in order to maximise recipients’ immunity towards existing and future variants of Covid-19.
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