Khairy says Delta variant has derailed Covid-19 herd immunity, just focusing on widening vaccination

Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin on his way to a press conference in Putrajaya, September 1, 2021. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon
Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin on his way to a press conference in Putrajaya, September 1, 2021. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon

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KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 23 — Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said he has stopped using the term “herd immunity” in terms of Malaysia’s target Covid-19 vaccination.

He explained that the rapid spread of the Delta variant makes the term no longer applicable, but added that the government is still focused on expanding vaccination coverage for public protection.

“With regards to the question asked by Pontian, as the health minister, I don’t use herd immunity anymore. At the time we began the vaccination programme, we used a conventional formula for us to calculate the herd immunity which was found to be between 70 and 80 per cent vaccination rate, and only then do we achieve herd immunity.

“However, at that time, it was before the spread of the Delta variant. Delta has basically thrown the herd immunity calculation and it is difficult to say when we can achieve herd immunity,” he said in his ministerial winding-up in the Dewan Rakyat.

Khairy was responding to Pontian MP Datuk Seri Ahmad Maslan, who asked why Malaysia’s Covid-19 death count is still high even after the 80 per cent immunisation target was achieved.

The government had previously declared 80 per cent as the target for herd immunity.

“That is why let us not look at the question of herd immunity. We have to ensure that the coverage is as wide as possible. The broadest possible coverage of vaccination and that is why the teenage NIP is very crucial,” Khairy added, referring to the National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme for 12 to 17-year-olds.

He said that it is not enough to just have between 70 and 80 per cent of the adults vaccinated, when the children are not.

“I think that the experts worldwide have stopped using herd immunity in the Covid-19 context,” Khairy said.

Kuala Selangor MP Datuk Seri Dzulkefly Ahmad then cut in and asked if the ministry will be reviewing the interstate travel policy since Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob said yesterday that the restriction will be lifted once 90 per cent of adults in Malaysia are vaccinated.

Ismail Sabri, who chairs the special committee managing the Covid-19 pandemic, said this was among six decisions made yesterday.

The PM also announced that the special committee had decided that tourism centres, tourism premises or tourism products such as zoos, farms, aquariums, snorkelling, scuba diving, fishing tourism and forest parks (taman rimba) will be allowed to operate in all phases of the National Recovery Plan (NRP) from October 1, 2021 onwards, with the requirement for all operators and visitors to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19.

Khairy said that interstate travel activities alone do not contribute to Covid-19 cases, but “congregations”.

“So we will have to look at public health measures. Lifting the borders alone is not the issue so much. Mobility is not the issue so much,” he said, drawing support from Dzulkefly.

Ahmad also asked Khairy about lessons Malaysia could learn from New Zealand’s Covid-19 management practices.

Khairy said that while New Zealand could still afford to do “hard lockdowns” as it has a “zero Covid” approach, the Malaysian government expects there will be cases from time to time despite efforts to reduce the numbers.

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