Boost Covid-19 vaccination rate, urges health expert

KUALA LUMPUR: Calls to get the country's population to take their Covid-19 vaccination should continue and be further amplified in a bid to see a bigger immunisation coverage that will help reduce daily new cases and hospital admissions due to the virus.

Former health deputy director-general (medical) Professor Datuk Dr Rohaizat Yon said he wished to see the vaccination exercise go on and its rate heightened, across all segments of the society from children to adults, to hit its maximum percentage.

He said there was no room for complacency even though the daily positive cases had been on a plateauing trend, hovering an average of 1,000 and 2,000, while there were low hospital admissions of categories 3 and 4 patients.

"If possible, we should strive to raise the vaccination rate to 99.9 per cent. This is so that we can bring down the new daily cases even further and it will ensure that hospitals will not be overwhelmed and its services are not disrupted.

"Parents must ensure their children aged five to 11, as well as adolescents, get their vaccine shots. They now play a big role in ensuring the higher immunisation coverage of the population and they, too, are protected from the virus.

"Parents who hesitated in the past should get their young ones jabbed under the current five-day Covid-19 National Immunisation Programme for Children (PICKids). There are also many adults who have yet to take their booster, first and second doses.

"I urge them to get their shots as soon as possible," he told the New Straits Times, adding that awareness and engagements should also be raised with those who were vaccine hesitant.

The Health Ministry, had on Monday restarted the five-day only PICKids, to raise the vaccination rate. The CovidNow portal showed that as of June 22, the vaccination rate was 49 per cent for those with the first dose and 36.9 per cent with two doses. No booster is offered so far.

Up to 96.4 per cent of adolescents aged 12 to 17 have had one dose while 93.5 per cent are fully immunised.

As for adults, 99 per cent have received one dose; 97.8 per cent are completely immunised while 68.6 per cent have been boosted.

Dr Rohaizat, who is Management and Science University consultant public health physician, said those who were ineligible due to health reasons should also get assessed to see if they can now take their inoculation.

The number of daily cases could possibly be more, as many who are administering self tests may not be reporting their positive results, he said.

To safeguard themselves, he called on people to continue to adhere to self-public health measures by wearing face masks properly, sanitising their hands and avoiding crowded spaces.

"Those who are vaccinated should not ever think they are resistant to Covid-19. They should not feel the virus is not a big deal.

"It is even worse when they are asymptomatic and they might infect old and vulnerable people. The same goes for children who may spread the virus to their peers in school and parents at home.

"Continue to follow the standard operating procedures as we are in the transition to the endemic phase and we are not out of the woods yet. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has not declared that the pandemic is over," he added.

Meanwhile, Manipal University College Malaysia Community and Occupational Medicine Professor Dr G. Jayakumar said the WHO recently reported that global cases of Covid-19 cases had dropped 12 per cent to more than three million and reported deaths declined to 22 per cent to about 2,700.

However, the cases had spiked by one per cent in Southeast Asia.

"The trend in the number of cases in Malaysia remains fluctuating. Data from the ministry may not depict the actual situation due to complacency of the people in testing, notifying the ministry and pandemic fatigue setting in after 30 months.

"The message the health authorities need to reiterate is that public health measures should be imbibed by the people at all times. We cannot be complacent. The culture of maintaining hygiene and simple public health measures are to remain and be part of our culture.

"Viruses mutate and we can expect new emerging variants or re-emerging of older diseases," he said.

He also felt that lockdowns or curtaining movement of the people at this stage of the pandemic would be a futile exercise.

Moving forward, the government will have to allocate more resources to public health, he said.

The emphasis of building more hospitals to treat cases is not tackling the root cause of the problem, he opined.

"Prevention is better than cure and certainly remains the cornerstone of our approach. It is time for the government to train more public health doctors and other related professionals to keep at bay infectious diseases and future possible pandemics.

"A reinvented public health approach will depend highly on leadership and political will. It needs greater investment.

"Lessons from the pandemic have taught us our surveillance systems need to be more creative and to incorporate more contemporary measures like Artificial Intelligence to complement the work of public health professionals," said Dr Jayakumar.

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