PETALING JAYA: With rising Covid-19 cases and a rather low uptake of second booster shots in the country, health experts have renewed their call to those eligible to complete their immunisation schedule.
They also said a third booster could be ideal for high-risk groups to make up for the waning immunity protection.
According to the Health Ministry’s GitHub database, as at Dec 9, a total of 828,201 second booster shots had been administered.
However, the vaccination rate for the second booster has remained at 2.5% of the adult population since May.
Comparatively, 16.28 million people received the first booster, with over 23 million adults having completed their primer doses.
Second booster shots are generally not recommended for healthy adolescents and children.
Advising the public to complete their vaccination schedule, public health expert and former Health Ministry official Datuk Dr Zainal Ariffin Omar said there was a rise in Covid-19 infections in the 20-40 age group.
“It is important to observe Covid-19 prevention measures like previously, especially for those at high risk or experiencing symptoms. Complete your immunisation schedule,” he said.
Prof Dr Sharifa Ezat Wan Puteh, a health economics and public health specialist with Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, said as immunity against the virus wanes, taking booster shots is necessary.
“There is a proposal that new vaccines which work against other variants will be developed and implemented on a yearly basis. We don’t know when this will come in, although it was suggested at one point,” she added.
Prof Sharifa Ezat said fortunately there was presently no specific virulent variant of concern (VOC) flagged by the World Health Organisation.
“Existing variants of interest and variants under mutation are not so pathogenic and do not increase the risk of death,” she added.
Prof Dr Moy Foong Ming of Universiti Malaya’s Department of Social and Preventive Medicine is of the view that boosters should be taken if it has been a year since the last booster shot.
Asked if there is a need for a fifth shot or a third booster, she said it would be ideal for high-risk groups.
“Ideally yes; however, the fourth dose had very low uptake. In view of the fact that elderly and vulnerable groups may have more severe symptoms and may need hospitalisation with death a possibility, they should be strongly encouraged to get a booster dose.
“As for the rest of the population, we can let them weigh their own risks and make their own decision to get a booster dose or not, since the Omicron variant is still mild and not causing severe symptoms among the majority of our population,” she said.
Prof Moy said the recent surge in Covid-19 cases could be due to the year-end school holidays and with more people travelling, and shopping malls and tourist spots becoming more crowded.
According to the KKMNow portal, as at Dec 2, there were 15,327 active Covid-19 cases. Of these, 318 were hospitalised and eight warded in the intensive care unit, with five patients on ventilators.
The remaining were under home quarantine. There was a 153.8% jump in cases over the 14-day period ending on Dec 2.
Some countries have rolled out a fifth shot for high-risk groups. Earlier this year, Australia recommended a fifth dose for those who either had not had Covid-19 or a booster shot in the past six months.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that those who took previous doses should go for an additional shot of the updated 2023-2024 Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna or Novavax vaccine for all aged five years and older to protect against serious illness from the virus.
The updated vaccines are said to offer protection against newer variants of the virus.