IN allowing students from tertiary institutions to return to their hometowns for Hari Raya despite the interstate travel ban, the Higher Education Ministry (MOHE) has shown that it cares. We hope this will not cause a spike in the number of new Covid-19 cases.
We wonder, however, whether the MOHE has thought of the medical students, especially those in their clinical years who participate in ward duties and come into direct contact with patients daily. Such students are the only ones who have not been vaccinated in the first phase that covered frontliners in clinical settings. They are at high risk of getting infected by patients or transmitting Covid-19 to patients, and the students’ parents as well as physicians in charge of students in the wards are worried about this.
From a brief survey by the Society of Malaysian Medical Association Medical Students on March 25, only Universiti Malaya and Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia had vaccinated or started to vaccinate their medical students. The other public and private medical schools/universities only advised their students to register with MySejahtera and await their turn. By the criteria set by the Health Ministry, these medical students will be the last to be vaccinated (in Phase 3). Assessing the current Covid-19 situation, however, these students are in dire need of vaccination now.
Medical students should be regarded as part of the medical team; they take patient histories, perform physical examinations and assist in procedures in clinics and wards as part of their education. Medical schools/faculties in Britain, Hong Kong, the Philippines and Singapore have included medical students in their national vaccination plans together with frontliners.
Vaccinations of medical students should be prioritised – they should be included in Phase 2 of the vaccination programme. The MOHE should liaise with the Health Ministry to provide vaccinations to these students as soon as possible at the hospitals they are currently attached to for clinical training.
Medical students should not be the source of transmission to the vulnerable patients that they come into contact with during their clinical training. The safety of medical students should be looked after to safeguard the future of our health care system.
PROF DR MOY FOONG MING
Department of Social & Preventive Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, Universiti Malaya