Booster shot has fighting chance

Tight procedures: Auxiliary policemen guiding transit passengers at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport. — Bernama

PETALING JAYA: Ensuring those in the high-risk groups are fully vaccinated with the booster dose can help prevent severe complications and ease the healthcare system even if there is a community transmission of the Omicron variant, say public health experts.

Universiti Malaya Department of Social and Preventive Medicine Faculty of Medicine Prof Dr Moy Foong Ming said Omicron transmission could be controlled if the Health Ministry conducts genome sequencing on all imported cases and quickly screens for close contacts.

“I think the variant may be present in the country in low numbers, but it was not detected as no genome sequencing was done.

“However, the high vaccination rate with booster doses, along with the SOP such as wearing a face mask, hand hygiene, avoiding crowded areas and poorly ventilated places would still work against the Omicron transmission,” she said.

The country detected its first case of the Omicron variant from a 19-year-old South African private university student in Ipoh. He arrived in Malaysia from South Africa through Singapore on Nov 19.

Even if there is an Omicron community transmission here, Dr Moy believed it would not burden the health system if the population is fully vaccinated with booster doses, especially the elderly and high-risk groups.

“The majority of the cases may only present mild symptoms, which may not burden our hospitals. As such, the elderly and high-risk groups must take their booster shots so that they won’t get infected and be down with the severe disease.

“But, we still need to wait and see from countries with more cases, whether severe cases are reported and who are those infected,” she said.

Malaysian Public Health Physicians’ Association president Datuk Dr Zainal Ariffin Omar believed that the full impact of the variant would only be known in one to two weeks following the detection of the positive case of the variant in the country.

However, he does not see any problem in the country’s public healthcare system to manage the variant.

“The preventive measures are still the same, practice the SOP, wear your face mask, practise physical distancing and get your booster dose,” he said.

“Studies have shown that the Covid-19 vaccine works. It is one of the methods to lessen its ill effects, albeit the possibility of reduced effectiveness and protection,” said Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia health economics, hospital and health management Prof Dr Sharifa Ezat Wan Puteh.

“We know it is more contagious than Delta, but we are not sure of its virulence and how vaccines will work against Omicron,” she said.

Dr Sharifa said it would depend on the clinical data on whether hospitals could handle a surge in Omicron cases.

“We are particularly interested in its effects on the elderly, those who have been fully vaccinated and those with comorbidities.

“At this point, if the virus causes mild infections and no respiratory failure, severe infections and others, isolation and home quarantine might be sufficient. Thus, we would not burden the healthcare system,” she said.As of Dec 2, the Health Ministry reported that the utilisation of hospital beds throughout the nation stands at 69.5%, while ventilator and intensive care unit (ICU) usage were at 38.7% and 63.6%, respectively.

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