MOH on alert as infectivity rises

Taking the shot: Dr Noor Hisham (second, right) receiving a vaccine booster shot at the Health Ministry. — Bernama

PETALING JAYA: The public should not hesitate to take Comirnaty vaccine booster shots to protect themselves, regardless of the vaccine they were administered before this.

With the rising infectivity rate (R0) in the country, the Health Ministry has warned that the public must do their part in protecting themselves and the community.

Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said that through studies, the heterologous (or mixing) approach has been shown to be effective in offering protection.

It was understood that many recipients who were fully vaccinated using CoronaVac by SinoVac were hesitant to receive the booster shot if it was not CoronaVac. Comirnaty is manufactured by Pfizer-BioNTech.

The RO (R-naught) in Malaysia rose to 1.0 on Nov 11, five weeks after interstate travel was allowed.

If the R value is 1 for example, it means that on average, ten infected persons will spread Covid-19 to ten others. An R value higher than 1 means that the number of cases will increase.

If the R value falls below 1, the disease will eventually stop spreading as there will not be enough new infected persons to sustain the outbreak.

The last time the country’s R value was above 1 was on Aug 31 this year. The country’s infectivity rate has been on a downward trend since late July, but it has been inching up since Oct 20.

“Similarly, if we look at the situation before this, the trend on the rise of cases was seen between five and six weeks after interstate travel was allowed last Dec 7,” he said yesterday.

Dr Noor Hisham noted that interstate travel in itself is not the problem; the difficulties result from people congregating together in enclosed spaces, or gathering in close proximity.

“This is how Covid-19 spreads,” he said, adding that with the RO at 1.0, cases were now deemed “flat”.

“It will not drop but will be flat. The last time the R0 was at 0.8, that meant that there was a decrease of 20% in one cycle, but right now, it will be flat.

“So, this is an early sign that cases will increase. It has not increased yet, but it will, just that now it is in a flat phase,” he said as he urged the public to adhere to measures such as mask wearing, and to double-mask where possible.

“If we double mask, we can filter the virus with (an effectiveness of) about 86% to 90%,” he said, adding that if distancing in an area is not possible, people can opt to wear face shields on top of the masks.

On vaccine boosters, Dr Noor Hisham said booster doses as well as additional doses are in line with the recommendations by the World Health Organisation Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunisation, especially for those who have low immunity, those who are aged above 60, and frontliners.

“The panel of ministry medical experts have examined the effectiveness as well as safety of booster doses from various sources, and found that one booster dose is capable of increasing the immunity levels against Covid-19,” he said.

Dr Noor Hisham pointed out that several vaccines are currently undergoing a review process by expert and regulatory panels to be used as booster doses.

“AstraZeneca and Sinovac (CoronaVac) have submitted their dossier, and we are reviewing them. The next meeting by the Drug Control Authority will be on Nov 17. We need time to review the data. This will be under the National Pharmaceutical Regulatory Agency (NPRA),” he said, adding that it is also possible for fully-vaccinated Sinovac recipients to receive the Sinovac vaccine again as a booster.

However, he said NPRA has yet to approve Sinovac as a booster shot.

Dr Noor Hisham added that the ministry is currently discussing allowing walk-in booster vaccinations, noting that those eligible for the booster shots are currently receiving their appointments via the MySejahtera app.

Meanwhile, Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin tweeted yesterday that his ministry was monitoring hospital admissions and other leading indicators as Malaysia’s Covid-19 infectivity rate climbed again to above 1.

“If you have been given an appointment for a booster dose, take it. The elderly, where possible, should avoid crowded places. Practise #TRIIS (test, report, isolate, inform, seek),” said Khairy.

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