‘Not many takers for jab’ (Poll Inside)

Staying safe: Dr Muhammad Fadzil Rahmat vaccinating a woman at a clinic in Kota Damansara. — AZHAR MAHFOF/The Star

PETALING JAYA: Only less than 3% of the population have received their second booster shot, and private healthcare practitioners said the statistic reflect the reality on the ground.

“Not many people are coming forward, the uptake is quite low,” said Dr Raj Kumar Maharajah, the president of Medical Practitioners Coalition Association of Malaysia.

Dr Raj said the poor uptake for the second booster jab is due to the fear of potential side effects because of negative news circulated on social media.

ALSO READ : Second booster drive needs a boost

“Anyway we have already attained herd immunity, so it is actually not so necessary to get the second booster,” he said.

According to the KKMNow website, as of March 27, a total of 816,291 doses of the second booster were administered, meaning that only about 2.5% of the population have been inoculated with the jab since it was made available in May last year.

The highest uptake was among those aged 70 to 79 years old, followed by 60-69 and the above 80 age groups.

Comparatively, 50% of the eligible population had received their first booster with a total of 16,321,387 doses administered.

However, the numbers are relatively low compared to the primary doses where 86.1% (28,132,628 doses) had received the first shot and 84.3% (27,545,367 doses) had completed their second dose.

Asked if the low percentage of second booster is a cause for concern to the overall population, Dr Raj replied that “the repercussions are not much now because we have attained herd immunity unless there is a new strain”.

“We are also not sure if the vaccine will help with the new strain. I think it is not so compulsory (right now),” he added.

“Herd immunity” refers to the indirect protection from an infectious disease that happens when a population is immune either through vaccination or immunity developed through previous infection.

Echoing Dr Raj on the poor uptake for the second booster shot, Association of Private Hospitals Malaysia president Datuk Dr Kuljit Singh said the fears and concerns over the seriousness of Covid-19 have subsided.

“There is no more hype in the media, no more restrictions and Standard Operating Procedure (have been relaxed), it gives a feeling (of less concern) to the the general public or any human being for that matter not just in Malaysia, but other parts of the world, hence there is not much of a concern about (Covid-19) anymore,” he said.

ALSO READ : Those from high-risk groups still advised to mask up

He said people were more receptive towards vaccination in the past because Covid-19 was seen as “visibly dangerous”.

“People were dying of Covid-19, the hospitals were full, the picture was grim,” he said.

However, he said high-risk groups such as those with pre-existing health conditions are advised by doctors to take their second booster shot.

He said most private hospitals have also stopped offering the Comirnaty vaccine produced by Pfizer-BioNtech following the conclusion of the National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme, adding that the vaccine was previously sourced from the government via ProtectHealth Corporation Sdn Bhd.

However, the Comirnaty booster shots are available in clinics.

He said after the conclusion of the national immunisation drive, private hospitals were given the choice of whether they wanted to procure vaccines that were commercially available.

He added that some private hospitals may still offer the Sinovac vaccine (called CoronaVac) but not Comirnaty as each vial contains six doses, which means six people will have to be injected once a vial is opened. The Comirnaty vaccine was health authorities’ recommended shot for the second booster.

Dr Raj and Dr Kuljit are of the view that non-high risk groups can also opt for the second booster shot and there are no restrictions towards it.

Dr Steven Chow, president of Federation of Private Medical Practitioners Associations Malaysia, said apart from the perception that the vaccine is not free from side effects, some may even see the second booster shot as having no added value at this stage.

Citing the Lancet medical journal, he said the emergence of affordable and powerful oral anti-Covid-19 drugs, and the increased uptake of vaccination will bring hope for the end of the pandemic

“At this point in time virtually the entire population of Malaysia have either had the designated two doses of the vaccine or have had an episode of natural infection. The data for the second booster dose for non-high risk groups is yet to be forthcoming,” he said.

In a parliamentary reply on March 23, the Health Minister said only 69.1% or 16,253,760 of those aged 18 and above received their first Covid-19 booster dose, with only 3.5% or 815,191 receiving the second booster.

She also added that there were also 8,633,249 vaccine doses from various manufacturers yet to be used, and were set to expire between February and September this year.

It was previously reported that 2,796,638 vaccine doses stored by the Health Ministry have expired as of Feb 28.

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