Letter to Editor
By Professor Datuk Dr Subramaniam Muniandy
THE Special Committee on COVID-19 vaccine supply must review its categorisation of frontliners and list under Category 1 in its guidelines all healthcare workers who are directly exposed to risk of COVID-19 to be vaccinated concurrently in Phase 1 of the National Immunisation Programme (NIP).
Under the guidelines currently, general practitioners (GPs), private specialist clinics and dentists are listed under Category 2 along with defence and security forces, police personnel, primary and secondary school teachers and other essential services personnel.
The private GPs and many private specialist clinics are usually the first point of care for patients with symptoms of severe acute respiratory illness (SARI) and influenza-like illness (ILI) – the most common symptoms in patients infected with COVID-19.
A number of GPs and their staff have been infected with COVID-19 from exposure to patients with these symptoms who were later found to be COVID-19 positive. Some clinics had to shut down for 14 days as a result because the GP and their staff had to be quarantined.
The GPs are also currently conducting mass and community COVID-19 screenings which put them at increased risk of infection.
Placing GPs in Category 2 of the guidelines under the COVID-19 NIP shows they are not being recognised as an integral part of the mainstream healthcare system and will only delay efforts to bring the pandemic under control.
Dentists and their staff are also exposed to risk of COVID-19 as patients seeing them will need to remove their facemask to be examined and treated.
The Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) hopes that in line with the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) call to accelerate vaccine equity for all healthcare workers, the Special Committee on COVID-19 vaccine supply will review its categorisation of frontliners and list all healthcare workers directly exposed to risk of COVID-19 under Category 1 in its guidelines.
MMA is aware that while vaccinations for Category 1 and 2 is planned for roll out concurrently, this is not reflected at the ground level.
With the NIP decentralised to the respective state health departments, closer engagement and improved communication with the private healthcare sector is needed for better coordination and to prevent any confusion. – March 2, 2021
Professor Datuk Dr Subramaniam Muniandy is the president of Malaysian Medical Association (MMA).
The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.