PETALING JAYA: Malaysia is unlikely to meet its deadline of achieving herd immunity to Covid-19 if the registration and inoculation processes continue at current rates, says a senior consultant paediatrician.
Datuk Dr Amar Singh said at the current rate, only about six million or 19% of the population will receive the first dose of the vaccine by year-end, far from the government's target of achieving herd immunity by inoculating 80% of the population by February next year.
Malaysians are also slow in registering to receive the vaccine, he said in a statement on Thursday (March 18).
As of March 17, he added, about 30% of those eligible or 5,867,497 people have registered for the vaccine while only 1.45 million out of the 9.4 million Malaysians aged 60 and above living with comorbidities have registered.
As of that date, 367,213 Malaysians or 1.15% of the population had received the first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine.
"At the current rate, only approximately six million or 19% of the whole population will receive their first shot by the end of the year, not to mention the second dose," he said.
He also expressed concern that only about 60% of the population will agree to be inoculated.
Since only people aged 18 and above are eligible for the vaccine, Dr Amar-Singh said approximately 30% of the population aged below 18 are excluded from the National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme.
He added that about 3% of pregnant or breastfeeding mothers are likely to defer vaccination until later, unless they are in a high-risk situation, while an estimated 1% of the population will be too ill or have contraindications to the vaccine.
"I have assumed that a modest 10% will choose not to vaccinate. This will leave us with the ability to vaccinate only about 55%-60% of the population.
"This is also assuming we are sensitive to economic migrants and refugees who account for at least 10% of the population," he said.
Dr Amar believes children younger than 12 might be allowed to get the vaccine to further fortify the nation's protection against Covid-19.
"We must remember that, even if 60% of the population is vaccinated, when children go to school or kindergarten there is no herd immunity present in that environment as all the children are not vaccinated.
"Herd immunity for children will currently only work when they are with many vaccinated adults," he said.
Vaccination progress in the programme's second phase is likely to hasten progress but that will also depend on vaccine supply, logistics and the capacity of the health system to deliver them, he added.
"In this pandemic that affects every single person, we need to take personal responsibility.
"We cannot expect others to help control the outbreak for us. We are in this together and our collective vaccination is part of the way forward," he said.