COVID-19 is far from over. Worldwide, we have surpassed 100 million cases and, tragically, more than two million people have lost their lives to the disease. These are not just numbers but people, each with a name and a story, each a great loss.
One year into this pandemic, we know what works and what saves lives – wearing masks, frequent hand washing, and physical distancing. These and other public health and social measures are absolutely critical in stopping transmission, but we must also have community support, working together in solidarity with each and every person playing his/her part in halting the spread of the virus.
As we move into our second year of living with Covid-19, there is greater hope with the emergence of additional tools for fighting the virus. As frontline workers are being vaccinated, we are very optimistic about the rollout of new, safe and effective Covid-19 vaccines, and the people of Malaysia echo that sentiment.
In a survey conducted by the Health Ministry on Covid-19 vaccine acceptance, 67% of respondents stated that they would get the jabs once the vaccine becomes available to the wider population.
The government has taken great steps to tackle Covid-19 head on and has made good progress on the procurement of vaccines and planning of immunisation. Last month, it announced a national target of vaccinating 80% of our adult population by February 2022.
As we bring the vaccine to the people, we must prioritise those most in need – the frontliners, particularly healthcare workers who are constantly exposed, and the elderly who remain the most vulnerable. Prioritising these groups is necessary in order to maintain healthcare capacity and reduce morbidity and mortality.
It is also in line with Malaysia’s Covid-19 National Immunisation Programme.
So far, the government has signed agreements with Pfizer/BioNTech, AstraZeneca, the Covax facility and other pharmaceutical companies for enough vaccine to cover the needs of the eligible population. It is important that coverage extends to vulnerable communities irrespective of legal status or nationality to ensure we do not leave pockets of society unprotected, as no one is safe until everyone is safe.
All of these steps mark extremely important progress, but it is critical to remember that vaccines alone won’t end the pandemic. Even with immunisation going on and the number of people vaccinated increases, we must not let our guard down.
Current data shows that the existing Covid-19 vaccines are effective at protecting individuals against the disease, but we still don’t know if they prevent people from passing the virus to others.
Vaccines are ultimately an extremely important tool as part of our response to Covid-19 when used in combination with other evidence-based protective measures. We encourage people in Malaysia to continue listening to their health authorities and adhere to the standard operating procedures introduced by the government.
It is important that we all think about how the actions we take as individuals can determine our collective health. It is also important for us to inform ourselves and others with credible, scientific and evidence-based information. This will be crucial in building vaccine confidence in Malaysia and elsewhere.
Individuals and communities in all countries have the power to influence the course of this pandemic, and the World Heath Organisation will continue to work alongside Malaysia to navigate through these difficult times.
We are all in this together.
DR TAKESHI KASAI
WHO regional director for the Western Pacific
Science, Technology and Innovation Minister; Co-chair of the Special Committee for Ensuring Access to Covif-19 Vaccine Supply (JKJAV)
DATUK SERI DR ADHAM BABA
Health Minister; Co-chair JKJAV