Malaysia must start securing Covid-19 booster shots, say health experts

A health workers administers a dose of the Covid-19 vaccine at Dewan Seri Siantan in Selayang June 28, 2021. ― Picture by Hari Anggara
A health workers administers a dose of the Covid-19 vaccine at Dewan Seri Siantan in Selayang June 28, 2021. ― Picture by Hari Anggara

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KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 27 — Health experts expressed their concern over Malaysia’s procurement of Covid-19 booster shots, with the country seen as lagging behind several of its peers. 

Professor Datuk Dr Awang Bulgiba Awang Mahmud told The Star that Malaysia should make preparations to purchase booster shots to avoid supply shortages when the government decides to kick-start such programmes. 

“We are likely to face supply issues when we decide to give booster doses (in the future) if we do not act to secure supplies now.

“Malaysia has secured enough supplies for the entire population, but it will need more doses if we are to give boosters,” he told the English daily. 

He said several countries like the United Kingdom, Austria, Belgium and Luxembourg have already unveiled plans to provide booster jabs for those in vulnerable groups, have certain illnesses and are immunocompromised. 

“Their criteria are based on emerging evidence about which groups are more vulnerable and need to be protected first,” he added.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recently expressed its concern on countries stocking up booster shots, saying that such a move would further worsen vaccine inequity. 

Dr Awang Bulgiba agreed with the sentiment, saying that the scramble for booster shots worldwide would worsen vaccine inequity issues. 

WHO has resorted to requesting for a “moratorium” on booster shots until at least the end of September, with WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus saying that it cannot allow countries who have used up most of the global supply of vaccines to purchase even more.

Yesterday, Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said that the booster shots for those who have completed their Covid-19 vaccination will not curb the highly contagious Delta variant that has become the dominant strain in Malaysia.

He reminded Malaysians that mass vaccination must be prioritised before consideration can be given for a booster shot and that no one will be safe until everyone is.

Several states in the country have been facing shortages of the vaccine, with the Health Ministry not making clear the reasons behind the shortages. 

Assoc Professor Dr Malina Osman, a medical epidemiologist from University Putra Malaysia told The Star that the shortages could be due to the increasingly limited vaccine supplies around the world. 

She said that countries around the world should heed WHO’s call to stop purchasing booster shots for the time being, but said Malaysia should make preparations to purchase them nonetheless. 

“Local studies of our own population should be conducted so that we have baseline figures to support the need for boosters.

“It would also be wise if we can start securing supplies of booster shots.

“However, as we are now struggling to achieve the 80 per cent vaccination target, the priority now is to get all people susceptible to the virus vaccinated,” she said.

Dr Malina said that when Malaysia does start purchasing booster shots, the priority should be given to those in high-risk groups such as frontline workers, the elderly and those with chronic diseases. 

Association of Private Hospitals Malaysia (APHM) president Datuk Dr Kuljit Singh also urged the Special Committee on Covid-19 Vaccine Supply (JKJAV) to start planning to provide booster vaccines for medical personnel. 

“APHM would like to propose to JKJAV that it would be important to start planning booster Covid-19 vaccine doses for public and private healthcare workers as soon as we reach a reasonable percentage of fully vaccinated population.

“The government should now initiate discussions with the private healthcare stakeholders to work out mechanisms in getting the booster doses rolled out once formal approvals are obtained from the regulatory authorities,” he said.

At least two states in the country are reportedly making preparations to provide booster shots to their inoculated residents.

Selangor executive councillor in charge of the public health, unity, women and family development Dr Siti Mariah Mahmud told the state assembly that the state government is making preparations to provide the booster dose under its Selangor Vaccine Programme (Selvax), national news agency Bernama reported.

Sarawak has been reported to have looked into buying its own supply of Covid-19 booster jabs since last month.

State minister Datuk Seri Dr Sim Kui Hian, who is also adviser to the Sarawak Disaster Management Committee, told news portal Code Blue earlier this month that the state is in negotiations to buy the booster shots with the intent to begin administering them in October.

Nationally, the previous federal government under Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin said booster shots would only be considered next year as the priority is to vaccinate as many people in the country as quickly as possible to achieve herd immunity.

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