Bandar Kuching rep: Expedite COVID-19 vaccination of adolescent children

THE Health Ministry and Sarawak Disaster Management Committee (SDMC) must urgently expedite the current COVID-19 vaccination of adolescent children to protect them quicker in view of the current surge of Delta cases in Sarawak, said Bandar Kuching MP Dr Kelvin Yii.

“There has to be some form of ‘ops surge capacity’ when it comes to vaccinating our children as the spillover of the current surge of cases may affect them, potentially causing the next Delta wave to be among our children that are yet to be vaccinated,” he said in a statement on Monday (Sept 13).

“Considering the high vaccine coverage among the adult population in Sarawak, the total population coverage is only about 64%,” Yii noted.

“Despite the fact that the rate of severe symptoms and hospitalisation among the COVID-19 cases in Sarawak is not that high, the high infectiousness of the Delta variant has left our children and those yet to be vaccinated vulnerable and exposed to the devastating effects of Delta.”

While he applauded the state’s recent move to administer the COVID-19 vaccine jabs to adolescents, Yii opined that this has to be expedited even more to make sure more children get the needed protection as fast as possible.

“This will require constant high shipment of vaccine into Sarawak in view of high Delta infections and de-centralisation of PPVs for children to the different schools all around Sarawak.”

For the sake of convenience and to avoid congestion in vaccination centres (PPVs), Yii suggested that children be allowed to be vaccinated in their own schools and for special PPVs to be opened in as many schools as possible.

“This will make it easier to track children who are getting the vaccines based on school records including capturing those who have dropped out of school.

“If we can vaccinate all 12-17 years old as fast as this month, we can have a total population coverage of 83.4% as soon as possible before making further plans to vaccinate those below 12-years-old based on available data especially in view of reopening of schools.”

Yii went on to reiterate his call for MOH and SDMC to be transparent with their plans and strategy with COVID-19 in Sarawak.

“Merely talking about ‘living with COVID-19’ is somewhat premature and does not instil confidence to public when cases are still so high,” he remarked.

Sarawak’s weekly COVID-19 infections saw an increase of almost 300% or increased three-fold the past weeks from 7,423 cases in the week of Aug 12 – 18 to 21,940 cases from Sept 2 to 8.

At the same time, COVID-19 fatalities in Sarawak also saw a sharp 200% increase in the same period of time from 20 deaths to 60.

According to Yii, more than 50% of 27 people in Sarawak whose deaths were reported on Sept 5 to 6 had been fully vaccinated.

“That is why previously I have cautioned SDMC and MOH against shifting into full endemic-style (living with COVID-19) strategy in Sarawak prematurely without first addressing some of the fundamental public health measures.

“This includes the importance to invest into our public health system to continue the required Find, Test, Trace, Isolate and Support (FTTIS) by coming up with a comprehensive National Testing Plan which includes frequent testing at workplace, factories, schools, and all social events.

“This is more comprehensive and holistic rather than the plan to just test symptomatic and stop testing the asymptomatic.

“And more importantly, there has to be a clear policy on a booster shot especially for frontliners and high-risk groups especially in view of the waning effectiveness of the vaccines over time, which we have seen in other countries,” he went on.

In Sarawak, about 77.7% of fully vaccinated people in Sarawak had received Sinovac, followed by Pfizer-BioNTech (18.7%) and AstraZeneca-Oxford (2.4%).

“That is why I hope the Government will ensure all these steps are in place including my previous recommendations before making the shift purely to full endemic-style strategy.

“If we do this too soon without first preparing other fundamentals, I am concerned it can still trigger a new wave especially among our high-risk groups and those yet to be vaccinated including children and overwhelm the hospitals and even ICU capacity,” he added. – Sept 13, 2021

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