PETALING JAYA: With a growing number of variants of concern (VOC) detected in Malaysia, experts say vaccination and public health measures are the way to go to protect the gains Malaysia is making.
International Islamic University Malaysia epidemiologist Prof Dr Jamalludin Ab Rahman said the uptick in Covid-19 cases detected with the Delta variant in the country was indicative of how transmissible it was.
“It is said to be 60% more infectious than the previous Beta or Alpha variants,” he said.
Dr Jamalludin said if possible, the government should bolster capacity to do more genome sequencing to detect if there were newer variants in the country.
To date, Malaysia has submitted 1,510 genome sequences to the open-access Gisaid system, out of the 964,918 confirmed cases.
This means that about 0.15% of the cases were sequenced and shared, compared to Singapore’s 6.01% or Thailand’s 0.41%.
The Gisaid system facilitates worldwide sharing of data on influenza viruses as well as the Covid-19 virus.
Dr Jamalludin, however, said the vaccines had shown to be effective in protecting people from a severe form of the Covid-19 virus.
“Two doses of Comirnaty (Pfizer) and AstraZeneca can protect 88% and 60% respectively from the Delta variant, and it can prevent hospitalisation up to 96%,” he added.
As such, he said the vaccination rollout played a pivotal role in ensuring the Delta variant did not undermine recovery efforts.
“Our vaccine rollout now is among the best in Asia, if not in the world. More than 15% of the population have received two doses and it is important to fully vaccinate more than 50%.
“However, we may see its effect only later. Perhaps not in terms of the number of positive cases, but the number of hospital admissions and deaths,” he said.
He added that even so, Malaysia should still try to practise public health measures, regardless of the vaccination coverage.
“There is no shortcut, this is a marathon. Everyone must be patient, get the jab, and act as if everyone may be carrying the virus.
“If members of the community refuse to prevent themselves from getting the infection or worse, infecting others, an outbreak will happen.
“The public health team, such as health clinics, will have to control the outbreaks from spreading.
“If the size of the outbreak is too large, more people will get infected and many will end up in the hospital,” he said, adding that this might lead to a greater crisis if the hospitals’ capacity was overwhelmed.
International Islamic University of Malaysia public health specialist Asst Prof Dr Mohammad Farhan Rusli said the Delta variant had proven to be a highly transmissible variant.
“It is spreading across the globe, and in Europe it is now the dominant variant. It is extremely contagious, especially as the virus is now proven to infect through airborne transmission.
“This is the reason why we see a high spike in cases, and the move to more indoor activities also further boosts its spread,” he added.
He agreed that accelerating vaccinations was the “best line of defence”, along with following other non-pharmaceutical interventions.
“Data is highly suggestive that although people with two doses are still infected with Covid-19, there is strong evidence showing that vaccines ensure reduction in severity and prevents ICU admission or the need for ventilator assistance.
“The country still needs to go back to basics. The most obvious is to observe and follow the SOP, avoid indoor areas, crowded places.”
Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah recently shared in a Facebook post that as of July 22, there were 409 cases detected in Malaysia that were linked to VOC.
This comes following a surge in cases of the Delta variant in Sarawak, with a total of 92 cases discovered in the state so far.
To date, it was found that Sarawak had 149 local cases of both VOC and variant of interest (VOI), while Selangor and Kelantan had 69 and 25 cases respectively.