Malaysia set to vaccinate all children aged between 12 and 17 from Sept 15
When Malaysia kicked off its National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme (NIP) in Feb 2021, it started off slow due to the constraints in the supply of vaccines.
However, as more vaccines were coming in, the NIP ramped up its vaccination drive. Malaysia became one of the nations with the highest vaccination rates.
To update the progress and the strategies implemented by the NIP, The Health spoke with Datuk Dr Hishamshah Mohd Ibrahim, Deputy Director-General (Research & Technical Support) of the Ministry of Health (MoH).
“We got minimal amounts of vaccines in February when we started the programme. We ramped up the delivery, and the vaccine manufacturers provided us with the numbers. Our vaccination rate was at one point one of the highest in the world,” said Dr Hishamshah.
“It’s not a matter of capacity. It’s just a matter of supply. And on average in August, we exceeded 470,000 doses per day.”
For the whole population of Malaysia, as of Aug 24, 41.6 per cent have completed two doses of vaccine, and 57.1 per cent have received at least one dose.
“The States with high vaccination rates and highest percentage of adult population completing two doses of are Selangor (86 per cent), Negeri Sembilan (73.4 per cent), Labuan (92.6 per cent) and Sarawak (85.7 per cent).
“We hope that by October, we can possibly have 80 per cent of the Malaysian adult population fully vaccinated.”
Disparity in vaccine supply
Based on the updates, the vaccination drive is clearly more active in some States than the rest, and vaccine supply seems to be concentrated in the Klang Valley.
“There is vaccine disparity, and this goes by the strategy that we have.
“When we had a surge of cases in the Klang Valley, it overwhelmed the health services. So that’s why we had the operation surge capacity in the Klang Valley.
“Likewise, when we look at the Federal Territory of Labuan, where we started to vaccinate on a big scale early on. It was because we’ve got large numbers of cases and the Delta strain coming into the port of Labuan.
“In Sarawak, we increased the vaccination rate in anticipation of possible State elections,” added Dr Hishamshah.
The strategy worked, he said, as there were reduced admissions in the hospitals in Labuan and Sarawak and the number of people who need to be ventilated for Covid-19.
“And we also see this trend in the Klang Valley now. As the vaccination rate increases, the number of serious cases decreases.”
He also updated that Malaysia had received the single-dose vaccine, CanSino. These will be distributed by the mobile team to remote areas and pockets of Orang Asli settlements.
“To begin with, about 180,000 doses were sent to Sabah and several thousand doses to Perak, Pahang and Kelantan.
“With the arrival of the CanSino single-shot vaccine, we will be able to reach these remote groups in a more efficient manner.”
Vaccination for children
Initially, the vaccination was reserved for adults because children were not as high risk as adults to get the severe forms of Covid-19.
Malaysia is now set to vaccinate all children aged between 12 and 17 from Sept 15. As at Aug 30, 63.6 per cent of its adult population have already completed two doses and 83.8 per cent have received the first dose.
Based on the guidelines by MoH, priority is given to at-risk children with underlying medical conditions and those living with adults who are also at high risk.
“This is because those in the high-risk groups are predisposed to have a more severe form of Covid-19.”
After that, it will be followed by healthy adolescents in that age group from older to younger.
As for the brand of vaccine, Dr Hishamshah said: “Our National Pharmaceutical Regulatory Agency (NPRA) has only approved the vaccines by Pfizer-BioNTech to be used for children.”
Pfizer is the only vaccine with safety and efficacy data available for children. It was also the first vaccine to receive emergency use authorisation (EUA) by the FDA early on. It has since received full FDA approval.
With the highly contagious Covid-19 Delta virus, Dr Hishamshah stressed that it was more vital for the country to have its population collectively having immunity against the virus.
“Once we have a pretty sizable number of the population having immunity to the Covid-19, either from vaccination or having recovered from Covid-19, that is when we will achieve herd immunity.
“It is then the chances of this virus transmitting in the community can be controlled.
“However, in terms of reaching the percentage needed for herd immunity, we seem to be chasing a moving goalpost because the virus keeps changing in character.
“Epidemiologists are saying we need 90 per cent of the population immunised compared to the previous 70 per cent.
“This is because the Delta variant has double the infectivity rate compared to the original Wuhan strain and the subsequent variants. It is almost like a different virus.”
He also shared that both recovered Covid-19 patients and vaccinated individuals can get infected with the Delta variant.
“We call this a breakthrough infection, which is when you are infected with the Delta variant after getting infected with the original strain.
“Those who are vaccinated can also get affected by the Delta strain, although the severity is less.”
When asked about the anti-vaccine movement in Malaysia, Dr Hishamshah replied: “The majority of people are pretty open to vaccination. And that has been proven from our experience with our childhood vaccination programme.
“The number of anti-vaxxers is relatively quite small. It is just that they are media savvy and can make some loud noises. They are using a lot of these alternative media and social media to present their case.
According to Dr Hishamshah, some of the efforts taken to convince anti-vaxxers include;
- providing scientific evidence data on the safety and efficacy of each vaccine;
- using social media to educate on the statistics of ICU cases and brought-in-dead (BID) cases which are high among non-vaccinated people; and
- encouraging pro-vaccine social media influencers to counter the anti-vaxxers group.
“Eventually, the anti-vaxxers do come to their senses and even start influencing others to get vaccinated.
He added that the government was currently conducting some research on the anti-vaccine group.
“Based on the analysis, the government will find a way to make it mandatory under the existing legal provisions if the percentage of those who refuse vaccination on non-medical grounds is big.”
“With regards to the halal status of the vaccine, the National Fatwa Council has ruled the vaccines as permissible, and under the circumstances, it may be mandatory. This ruling is adopted by all the State Mufti offices.” — The Health