AstraZeneca vaccine voluntary programme to be expanded – Minister

PUTRAJAYA – The roll out of AstraZeneca (AZ) COVID-19 vaccine will be expanded and maintained under the voluntary programme after all 268,000 appointment slots were snapped in just over three hours yesterday.

National COVID-19 Immunisation Programme Coordinating Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said under the second roll out, the programme would take into consideration those without access to the Internet and vaccine equity.

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“Going forward in designing the future programme under the AstraZeneca programme… We will reach out to community clinics so that we can (continue to) offer on the voluntary basis,” he said in a joint press conference on the weekly update of the National COVID-19 Immunisation Programme, here today.

Khairy said Malaysia will have steady supply of the AZ vaccines with 1.1 million doses scheduled to arrive this month from COVAX facility, 610,000 doses from AZ itself in June, 410,000 doses in July and 1.2 million doses arriving in August and September.

He said the Special Committee on COVID-19 Vaccine Supply Access Guarantee (JKJAV) would decide on the interval period for AZ tomorrow based on efficacy, logistics and spike in cases.

Asked to comment on Sarawak’s decision not to accept AZ in the state, Khairy said he hoped it would reconsider the decision after looking at the public’s feedback and confidence on the vaccine.

“Yesterday, we saw very strong confidence in AZ. We will leave it to the government of Sarawak if they want to accept AZ after the show of confidence. I am open to its application in Sarawak,” he said.

Denying the characterisation of AZ roll out in the country as a “Hunger Game”, Khairy said JKJAV made the decision to proceed on voluntary bookings after taking into consideration public’s hesitancy of the specific vaccine.

He said 8,000 cancelled their registration in MySejahtera application after it was previously announced that Malaysia will proceed with AZ in its National Immunisation Programme.

“The number of cancellations is rising. This resulted in JKJAV deciding to opt it out from the mainstream immunisation programme and have this opt-in voluntary programme instead,” Khairy explained.

He said about 80 per cent of those who cancelled their registration, reregistered into the programme after AZ was introduced on a voluntary basis.

Field hospitals

The Ministry of Health (MOH) meanwhile is in talks with the Defence Ministry on the setting up of field hospitals in Kelantan and Sarawak, said Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Adham Baba.

He said there was a need to set up the field hospitals to accommodate non-COVID-19 related cases so that the burden of the hospitals dealing with COVID-19 patients could be reduced.

“Until now, we find there is a need to set up field hospitals, like in Tawau and Kelantan … so discussions are in progress so that the Defence Ministry can build them.

“The existing hospitals, especially their critical and intensive care unit wards can be used or focused on dealing with the increase in COVID-19 cases,” he told a press conference held jointly with the Coordinating Minister of the National COVID-19 Immunisation Programme, Khairy Jamaluddin, here today.

On the mobilisation of additional personnel to deal with COVID-19, Dr Adham said some 8,000 personnel from other ministries had been mobilised since last Jan 11 to assist the Health Ministry.

He said the latest involved a total of 800 personnel who were deployed to Sarawak and Kelantan.

“In Kelantan, staff from the dental department are deployed, apart from trainees and staff from the MOH Training Institute who are also experts in managing COVID-19 cases in critical wards and ICUs.

“Apart from that, MOH has obtained approval to have 11,000 more staff in all disciplines in the ministry,” he added.

On the first case of the COVID-19 variant originating from India, with a double mutation known as B.1.617.1, detected in the country, Dr Adham said the case was detected following screening of an Indian national at an international gateway last April 24.

“The Indian national came to our country before we decided to close the entry of flights from that country (India) …as for the Indian national, he has been quarantined for 14 days and we are monitoring the situation,” he added.

He said to date a total of 48 cases of South African variant B.1.351 had been in the country, UK B.1.1.7 (eight cases) and Nigerian B.1.525 (two cases).

Meanwhile, he said inter-state travel would not be allowed until May 17and that 13 inter-state clusters had been detected since last April.