07 Jan Urgent to Have Holistic Approach for Covid-19
MARIA CHIN ABDULLAH
MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT PETALING JAYA
With schools and universities possibly reopening as early as 20 January 2021, it is worrying that the Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Adham Baba has not made the educational institutions as urgent priority in his list of one million frontliners and high-risk population groups to be vaccinated against Covid-19.
I strongly urge the government and the Ministry of Health to seriously implement a comprehensive priority list so as to reduce the spread and to protect those who are exposed to high risk transmission. I recommend the following to be in the hot list:
a) school children and universities students who will be starting at their various educational institutions;
b) teachers, educational professionals, contractors (bus drivers, food deliveries, canteen owners), workers (cleaners, gardeners) and any related personnel who will be interacting and / or servicing the educational institutions.
The government has to take responsibility when it announces for schools to be reopened and take serious effort to address the potential risk that our students are exposed to by going back to schools and universities, especially in red zones.
Galen Centre has recommended a list of sub-population that needs to be placed in the priority list for the vaccination and they are as follows:
a) the elderly and those living with multiple comorbid conditions (multiple and complicated illnesses)
b) migrants and refugees workers at our industries, domestic homes and services, and those kept in factory living quarters, prisons and detention centres with high risk of transmission
c) Persons working in the essential services sectors, including health and social care services, law enforcement, cleaning and sanitation, and water, food, and electricity.
The last thing that we do not want to see happening is where those exposed to high risk transmission fall into the cracks, resulting in the backtracking of the benefit that the vaccination will bring. As it is, we are facing 4-digit infection cases on a daily basis and, therefore, a more thought-out and comprehensive strategy and priority list is urgently needed.
It remains unknown at this stage how the government or the Ministry of Health is embarking on the national immunization programme. Although it has been reported that the government will provide the vaccines for free for at least 80 per cent of the population or 26 million people, the details remained fuzzy and we are left in the dark as to who get prioritised and whether there are any scientific basis for such priorities.
Many questions have been raised regarding the safety of the vaccine and there has been no clarity on the issues, including if there is the need to keep the vaccine at a low temperature? will the 20% of the population, who may not get the vaccine, need to pay for the vaccine and who are they? How much is the cost? and many others. Yet the Minister still sees it fit to make a blanket announcement with very little information available. The public demands more and as the government of the day, the leadership has to practice good governance.
The development of COVID-19 vaccines signals a turning point for countries to move beyond the spectre of the pandemic and its consequences. However, the vaccination strategy needs to be fundamentally grounded in prioritisation to maximise the impact of limited and valuable resources. As seen in other countries which have begun deploying vaccines, multiple challenges have emerged, many of which are related to managing the scale of the immunisation exercise and encouraging the public to voluntarily come forward to be vaccinated. The societal impact of immunisation will depend on how the government of Malaysia distributes and administers the vaccine in an equitable manner.