Expert assurance on vaccines

PETALING JAYA: More data about Covid-19 vaccines will be made available by the time most Malaysians get the vaccine, says one of Malaysia’s top infectious disease experts, Datuk Dr Christopher Lee.

“So far, the short-term data looks safe. One month from now, we will have more data in terms of side effects.

“Millions of people around the world would have been vaccinated by the time most Malaysians get the vaccine.

“Many people would have looked at it and our own National Pharmaceutical Regulatory Agency (NPRA) will also be looking at it, ” added the former national adviser for infectious diseases and former Health deputy director-general.

Addressing media reports of “adverse events” occurring after vaccination, he said a portion of people might experience medical events that were unrelated to the vaccine, especially since large numbers of people are involved in a mass vaccination exercise.

“Therefore, before we react, we must trust the pharmacovigilance programme to look into it.

“No one can tell you that five to 10 years down the line, nothing bad will happen. But I think we must balance the risk-benefit of it all, ” he said.

Dr Lee stressed that vaccines play a big role in the “endgame of Covid-19” and the public should not be afraid of getting vaccinated.

The country’s health system will also ensure Covid-19 vaccines are safe before they are rolled out, he said.

While he acknowledged that Covid-19 vaccines were produced in “record time”, the newer technology used was already being researched prior to the pandemic.

“It’s unprecedented and the fastest we have ever come to making a new vaccine.

“However, we must understand that the platform that the vaccine makers have was already there.

“For example, the messenger RNA (ribonucleic acid) technology was already there. Once we could identify the complete genome of this virus, we just cut pieces of it and put it into this platform to make the vaccine, ” he said during an interview.

Certain administrative processes, he added, were also shortened by manufacturers and regulators, but no shortcuts were taken in the clinical and scientific process.

He urged Malaysians to be reassured that the regulatory system the country had set in place would ensure that the vaccine was safe for use.

“Every single vaccine – whether it’s from Russia, China or India – goes through a lot of scrutiny.

“Will all the vaccines work equally well? That is something we cannot predict. That’s why we have to continue to monitor even as we give the vaccine, ” he said.

Dr Lee added that the more common side effects some people might have are a sore arm, tenderness around the injection site or even low-grade fever for a couple of days.

“The more worrying side effects are occurring in people who have previous allergies. However, this has been very rare, not many people (experience it), ” he said.

He added that Malaysia’s decision to procure different vaccines was a “practical” one, as it might not be feasible to wait for the cheapest vaccine to be made available.

“More Malaysian lives may be lost or more Malaysians may end up in the intensive care unit, ” he argued.

The risk of Covid-19 is very real, he said, adding that there are patients who are struggling and needing oxygen support for weeks after the virus has gone away.

However, he admitted that his biggest concern is that there has never been an attempt to vaccinate so many elderly patients at the same time in the country.

“My concern is that it will be like H1N1 (Influenza A). When it first blew up, everybody wanted the vaccine, people were scared.

“But once the number of deaths seemed to stabilise or drop, our uptake of the flu vaccine hasn’t been great.

“It doesn’t mean we won’t succeed, but we have never done it successfully in this country before, ” he said.

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Christopher Lee , covid-19 , vaccine


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