MOST of those who succumbed to Covid-19 in Malaysia are senior citizens.
As of Jan 5, it was reported that over 80% of deaths due to the coronavirus were involving people aged 50 and above. But the bulk is made up of senior citizens in the age group of between 60 and 69.
So as part of the first few groups to receive the coming vaccine, senior citizens are relieved and looking forward to getting the jabs.
National Council of Senior Citizens Organisations Malaysia deputy president Datuk Dr Soon Ting Kueh lauds the idea of vaccinating senior citizens first.
“Senior citizens are the most vulnerable group. If they do get infected with Covid-19, the effects are more serious.
“Many citizens also have other old age illnesses like hypertension and diabetes. Getting Covid-19 will definitely lead to something more serious and even fatal, ” he says.
While some Malaysians worry about the side effects of the vaccine, Dr Soon says senior citizens in Malaysia are generally more worried about the coronavirus.
“Most of them are ready to take the jab, ” he adds.
For senior citizens who are immobile, Dr Soon hopes healthcare workers will be able to vaccinate them by going to their homes. In the third quarter of 2020, there were 2.32 million senior citizens in Malaysia aged 65 and above, according to the Department of Statistics Malaysia.
Universiti Malaya professor in geriatric medicine, Prof Dr Tan Maw Pin says it is important to prioritise elderly care home workers, residents and senior citizens since they are the ones who are most likely to succumb to Covid-19.
“We already know that in many developed countries, Covid-19 has literally wiped out their care homes, with death rates of 25% in such facilities.
“Therefore, it would really make no sense not to prioritise this group that is most likely to burden the healthcare system and add to the mortality rates, ” she says.
For Malaysia, she estimates that there are 30,000 care home residents from 400 registered and about 1,500 unregistered homes.
“Considering Malaysia is bringing in one million doses of the vaccine for the first phase, it really is not too much to spare 60,000 doses for our care home residents, ” says Prof Tan, who is also Malaysian Society of Geriatric Medicine honorary secretary.
Another way is to prioritise by the presence of the chronic diseases heart disease, stroke, dementia and diabetes, as those over 65 who have no known illness are actually low risk, she adds.
Prof Tan says the biggest societal ill unmasked by the pandemic is ageism whereby older people have been denied access to treatment, in particular life-support, just solely based on age in some countries.
“Some also use the poor excuse that older people have less to contribute to society and are therefore expendable.
“I strongly believe that Malaysians are way better than that.
“We should learn from others’ mistakes. As our healthcare system is now apparently buckling under the strain of the record breaking number of cases day after day, we should not even be tempted to ‘ration’ based on age or care home status. It will prove disastrous if we do, ” she adds.