I would like to comment on the article entitled “Divided over private vaccine plan” that was published in The Star on March 6, 2021. I feel that there are some unfounded fears about this issue.
Firstly, let’s not lose focus of our priorities and what we need to do to fight this Covid 19 pandemic. That is, getting as many people vaccinated in the shortest possible time. This is the only way to bring our infection numbers down.
Currently, vaccines are only available in government appointed health centres. Vaccination will take place in three phases according to the priority list drawn up, and will take one year to complete. This means it could take us at least a year to achieve herd immunity.
Datuk Dr Kuljit’s comment about allowing the private sector to help in the vaccination programme is a very good and practical idea to fasttrack the vaccination process. The Health Ministry cannot possibly handle such a huge task alone. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has to be given twice within three weeks – this will not only double the number of vaccines to be administered but will also incur huge costs and require a lot of manpower and logistics planning.
Allowing the private sector to shoulder some of the responsibilities will help expedite the programme. The argument that the haves will discriminate against the have nots is illogical. To me, if a person is willing to pay for his or her own vaccination, then why should the government shoulder the cost? The argument that the rich will jump the queue does not hold water either. We already have a two-tier health system so why make the vaccination programme an exception? Private centres will help provide an alternative queue and everyone will get the vaccines quicker as there will be a reduced bottleneck.
My suggestions are as follows:
> The government can appoint selected private hospitals to buy their own supply of vaccines.This way, the Health Ministry can regulate the cost and allow only recognised centres to give the vaccine.
> Private institutions like banks and other private companies can work with hospitals to vaccinate their staff and protect their frontliners and workers. This will enable them to resume their businesses and not wait for months for the vaccination.
> The appointed private centres should also organise charity programmes to vaccinate those who cannot afford to pay for the vaccine; NGOs can help identify such people, hence reducing the government queue.
By doing this we will remove a huge cohort of people from the Health Ministry’s programme so it can focus on helping other poor people and rural communities.
Currently, all vaccines being used in Malaysia only have “conditional” approval, so only the government has access to them. This needs to change because it will only create a bottleneck with long waiting times.
At the time of writing, none of Selangor private hospitals’ frontliners have been vaccinated. Selangor has the highest infection rate in Malaysia. If we had been allowed to purchase the vaccines then all our hospital staff would have been vaccinated by now and the Health Ministry would be able to use their vaccines for all their frontliners, including police and other essential personnel.
We need to stop this negative perception and see the bigger picture. That is about getting everyone vaccinated in the shortest possible time so we can achieve herd immunity and reduce the infection rate quickly. We need to help build back the national economy, reduce unemployment rates and restore normality. The government needs to look at this from all angles and not listen to people with unfounded fears. They cannot lose focus on what is necessary to address the financial and unemployment crisis that we are facing.
There are many companies producing the vaccines. Why speculate about the shortage of vaccines? Supply will eventually meet all demand in due course. Rich or poor will get vaccinated without favour or discrimination. But having a closed mind will certainly delay achieving herd immunity and everyone will suffer. Together let’s end the Covid-19 pandemic now. Get vaccinated as soon as possible.
DATUK DR MOHAMED IBRAHIM A. WAHID
Medical director and consultant clinical oncologist