THERE is an immediate need to roll out the new COVID-19 vaccine booster programme against the latest COVID-19 variants due to the waning effectiveness of previous vaccines, which potentially contributed to the recent surge in cases, said a former MP.
Former Stampin MP Dr Julian Tan Kok Ping said the last booster shot programme in Malaysia was conducted in 2022 and since then, vaccine effectiveness against infection had significantly declined after five to eight months.
“Malaysia faces a critical juncture in its battle against COVID-19, necessitating immediate action to implement a new booster vaccine programme aimed at tackling the latest variants,” Tan said in a statement on Tuesday (Dec 19).
“Health director-general (DG) Datuk Dr Muhammad Radzi Abu Hassan highlighted the availability of booster shots through the MySejahtera application but regrettably, it has come to our attention that the app lacks provisions for individuals who have already received booster shots to schedule appointments for the latest bivalent vaccine.
“We urge the Health DG to provide clarity on accessing this crucial vaccine and its associated processes.”
Tan, who was MP for Stampin from 2013 to 2018, said a notable priority for the government is acquiring the latest monovalent vaccines – a move that is similar to Singapore’s proactive measures.
Elaborating, he said Singapore faces a surge in COVID-19 cases linked to variants EG.5 and HK.3, descendants of the XBB Omicron variant, prompting the acquisition of the latest monovalent vaccine targeting the XBB.1.5 COVID-19 strain.
“In contrast, Malaysia missed two vital vaccination cycles intended for combating the Omicron variant and its subvariant, XBB, risking a potentially worse scenario if immediate steps are not taken,” he stressed.
Booster shots for children
Tan said children and vulnerable groups remain of utmost concern, and that while fewer children experience severe COVID-19 cases than adults, instances of serious illness or complications exist.
“In Singapore, children aged 5-17 are advised to receive an additional dose after completing their primary vaccination series. Presently, in Malaysia, children between 5-11 years old have only completed their primary vaccination series and haven’t received booster shots,” he said.
“The elderly in Singapore are urged to get vaccinated annually, but Malaysia has surpassed this timeline since the last booster shot programme.”
Tan further noted that advocating for mask-wearing and MySejahtera app utilisation remains important but their effectiveness hinges on public adherence, which can be inconsistent and challenging to enforce.
“Vaccination remains the scientifically-proven method to combat the spread of the latest COVID-19 variants, and the government should ensure access to the latest vaccine, considering subsidisation for citizen wellbeing if cost proves to be a concern,” he remarked.
According to Tan, it is imperative that the Malaysian government swiftly implements a comprehensive strategy to combat the current and future surge of COVID-19 cases by ensuring access to updated vaccines and a transparent implementation plan.
“The efficacy of these measures is crucial in curbing the spread of the virus. Prompt and effective action is urgently needed to safeguard the health and wellbeing of our nation’s citizens,” he added. – Dec 19, 2023
Main pic credit: Reuters