PETALING JAYA: Sign-ups for the Covid-19 jabs among Malaysians have greatly increased, with spikes of over 1,000% in registrations on certain days.
However, there is much catching up to do in some states, with less than half of their population having registered.
The country saw huge increases in vaccine registration on the days the opt-in AstraZeneca sign-ups went live, according to The Star's analysis of data by the Special Committee on Covid-19 Vaccine Supply Access Guarantee (JKJAV).
The first spike took place on May 2, when over 260,000 AstraZeneca vaccines were on offer to residents in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor.
There was a sudden, steep increase of 1,007% when vaccine registrations shot up to 254,458 from the 22,969 registrations just the day before.
In the seven days prior to the first round of the AstraZeneca opt-in on May 2, the daily average number of vaccine registration was only 28,113.
On May 23, daily registrations bumped up by 87.07% from the day before to 130,321 as the second round of AstraZeneca opt-ins opened up at noon that day.
It was opened up to those aged 60 and above living in five states namely Kuala Lumpur, Selangor, Johor, Sarawak and Penang, with a total of 1.24 million vaccines available.
Another spike was later seen on May 25, the day leading up to when the voluntary AstraZeneca programme would be expanded to those aged 18 to 59.
Daily registrations surged by 49.74% from the day prior to 219,258 on May 25.
On June 11, vaccine registration rates saw another massive bump, from over 200,000 registrations the day before to a whopping 710,477 sign-ups.
Universiti Malaya epidemiologist Prof Datuk Dr Awang Bulgiba Awang Mahmud said that for the spikes in May, the opt-in AstraZeneca registration provided a rational explanation.
“This means that many people could not wait for their appointments anymore as they are in the lower priority groups so they went for the AstraZeneca opt-in programme.
“The government needs to analyse the data to see if there are any duplicate registrations between the opt-in programme and MySejahtera and also perform detailed analysis by age group and locality.
“It can then concentrate on the age groups and areas with low registration rates, and find out the reasons for slow registration and devise plans to deal with this, ” he said, adding that the country needs to target about 300,000 to 500,000 daily doses between now and year-end.
In about one month and a half between May 1 and June 15, the number of vaccine registrations grew by an encouraging 20.2% to 13.83 million people.
The state which saw the largest percentage increase in vaccine sign-ups was Kuala Lumpur, which had grown by 35.9% to 1,168,192 registrations.
This is followed by Selangor (23.4% increase to 3,513,960) and Johor (22.5% to 1,727,211).
The states with the lowest growth in sign-up rates were Putrajaya (0.6%), Sabah (8.5%) and Kelantan (16%).
The more modest increase in sign-ups is not necessarily a cause for concern as the percentage of Putrajaya's population who have signed up for the jabs is 100%.
However, it does indicate that more efforts are needed to boost vaccine registration in certain states that are still seeing a low proportion of their population signing up for jabs.
For example, as at June 15, only 24.4% of Sabah’s population signed up for their jabs, while Kelantan still has only 42.3% of its people signed up.
Compare this to the 86.6% sign-up rate in Kuala Lumpur and 74% in Selangor.
Dr Awang Bulgiba said one way to bolster registrations was for the authorities to identify high-risk individuals with comorbidities, instead of just asking people to voluntarily register.
“There are several databases, such as health centre records, which can be used to identify them although they are not necessarily comprehensive and may not contain updated addresses.
“They can be matched to the nearest vaccination centre and registration forms can be sent to all registered individuals explaining in simple terms why they need to be vaccinated and how they can sign up, ” he said.
Dr Awang Bulgiba said all resources such as health clinics, pop-up centres, and mobile teams need to be deployed.
“Outreach programmes can also be done to register and maybe even vaccinate people, as is being done in Kelantan, ” he said, adding that mobile vaccination teams can also be sent out to places of worship or community centres.
Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia epidemiologist Assoc Prof Dr Azmi Mohd Tamil said the low registration rates in certain states could be reflective of the states’ infrastructure and socioeconomic status.
“Kelantan and Sabah are the states with lower per capita incomes. Since the registration process requires internet access and devices, this could prove a barrier.
“To have a smartphone to register is an enormous obstacle for the B40 groups in Sabah and Kelantan. Indirectly IT literacy is also an obstacle, ” he said.
He said in Kelantan, there were also certain leaders who spread false information about the vaccines on their social media channels by deeming it “unIslamic”.
Dr Azmi said these people must be engaged with and their arguments need to be countered with facts, "conveyed in a way they could understand".
In Sabah, he said, having documents to show one’s legal citizenship may also be an issue.
“Documents such as birth certificates may not be available, perhaps because births are not registered or documents were sold off for money - so they don’t have a MyKad, which is required at vaccination centres for proof of identity.
“There are also issues of illegal papers or fake papers in the interiors of Sabah. Besides poverty, Internet access, lack of infrastructure, there are also issues of proper identity documentation in Sabah, ” he said.
Dr Azmi said those with illegal papers need to be assured they will not be arrested or deported after registering for the vaccines.
“Since we know Internet access and literacy is a barrier, we need to go back to basics. We have to go down to the ground and register people using alternative pathways.
“We must rely on the ‘old methods’ of getting them to come to nearby halls and get them vaccinated. Don’t let technology get in the way, ” he said.
Even so, Malaysia needs to nearly double the number of its registration in order to achieve herd immunity.
The National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme document states that Malaysia aims to vaccinate at least 23.6 million.
As of June 15, about 13.83 million people signed up to receive the vaccines, which means that another 9.77 million people need to sign up to reach the target.