PETALING JAYA: Senior citizens and caregivers at long-term care homes are urged to get vaccinated against Covid-19, as they live in a high-risk setting for transmission of the virus in these facilities, say health experts.
Dr Jacqueline Lo Ying-Ru, head of mission and WHO representative to Malaysia, Brunei and Singapore, said senior citizens are vulnerable and are at high risk of being critically ill, as they also suffer from existing medical conditions and comorbidities, which result in higher rates of deaths.
As such, Dr Lo said infection prevention control measures remain of critical importance to avoid the introduction of the virus among residents at the senior citizen care facilities.
"Providing immunisation for the seniors is important because they live in high-risk settings for transmission of the virus and for the development of Covid-19 clusters involving residents and staff.
"Therefore, vaccination should be administered swiftly and safely to the resident and caregivers in order to keep them healthy and prevent severe illness or death from Covid-19," she said during the Vaccination Plan for Staff and Residents of Senior Citizen Residential Care Centres forum that was broadcast live on the Malaysian Research Institute on Ageing's Facebook page on Saturday (Feb 20).
Dr Lo said the vaccine brings hope for the elderly so that their families and friends would be able to see them without fear and anxiety of putting them in harm's way.
Science, Technology and Innovation Ministry (Mosti) Deputy Minister Datuk Ahmad Amzad Mohamed @ Hashim said since the start of the pandemic, almost 70% of deaths have come from the elderly aged 60 and above.
As such, he said if there was an outbreak at a senior citizen care home or a nursing home, everyone in there will need to be quarantined.
"I believe there is no (senior citizen care home) operator that wants the safety of their residents to be threatened," he said, adding that the outbreak in these institutions can happen very quickly due to the close environmental factors, as well as the difficulties to practice physical distancing in these premises.
Vaccinations at these institutions, Ahmad Amzad said, was an effort to reduce the risk of infections there.
During the forum, the Social Welfare Department's elderly division director Azmir Kassim said of the 17 senior citizen care institutions under its care, only three had reported an outbreak, with 120 cases out of the 2,500 persons at the centres.
Azmir noted that most of the cases happened in red zone areas such as in Johor and in Cheras, Kuala Lumpur.
"We found that most of the cases had originated from the care workers because they were the ones who came in and out of the place. It shows that the awareness of the care workers needs to be improved, as it is not the fault of the elderly persons in the place," he said.
Although the outbreak of Covid-19 cases was not high among the senior citizen care homes, Health Ministry's family health development division elderly health sector senior principal assistant director Dr Noraliza Noordin Merican said these senior citizens still needed to be vaccinated first as they were the ones in the high-risk groups and were placed in confined areas.
Dr Noraliza also expressed her concerns for the unregistered (not registered with the Social Welfare Department) senior citizen care homes fearing that they would miss out on the chance to be vaccinated.
She said the Health Ministry has a pre-registration for all elderly care homes to register their residents and staff to be given the vaccine in the second phase of the national vaccination programme.
"We are not penalising anyone from the unregistered care homes. We do not want to leave them behind. We want to give them the same services. Everyone should have the same rights to get the vaccine," she said.
Dr Noraliza said by registering the number of residents and caregivers, the ministry will be able to "lock-in" the number of vaccines required for them.
She noted that the last day for the pre-registration for the elderly care homes will be on Feb 28.