PETALING JAYA: Unless there are enough jabs to go around, health experts say that allowing people to choose their preferred vaccine in the National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme may lead to a snag in the rollout.
Malaysian Association of Public Health Physicians president Datuk Dr Zainal Ariffin Omar said there was no need to give people the option to choose their vaccine, unless there were specific health reasons to do so.
“It shouldn’t happen because the best vaccine is the one that is first available to be given, no matter which brand, ” he said.
This was in response to National Immunisation Programme coordinating minister Khairy Jamaluddin saying on Thursday that the MySejahtera app could be updated to include an option for vaccine brands, as well as the venue and date to get it.
Currently, the three vaccines used in Malaysia are Pfizer-BioNTech, Sinovac and AstraZeneca, which has now been re-included in under the national programme, after previously being offered in a separate opt-in programme due to public fears over its side effects.
“It’s a good move by the government to re-include the AstraZeneca vaccine in national immunisation programme, in line with the calls from health experts and the public, ” added Dr Zainal Ariffin.
Medical Practitioners Coalition Association of Malaysia president Dr Raj Kumar Maharajah said the government could let people have their pick of the vaccine if only there were enough doses to go around.
“If this is allowed, some vaccines will be exhausted much earlier than the rest and some will not be taken up. There will be a lot of wastage.
“The rakyat will be picking based on hearsay and forwarded messages. It is probably good on a first come, first served basis, ” he said.
Dr Raj Kumar added that it would be better to complete the immunisation for some by giving them their second dose, rather than to delay it so that more people could get their first dose.
He was responding to Khairy saying that the doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech could be given up to six weeks apart, instead of the present interval of three weeks, in order to allow for more people to at least receive their first dose.
However, Khairy also said that although delaying the interval between doses would allow for more people to be vaccinated sooner, the threat of the new variants must also be considered.
“Let some have complete immunity rather than all with no immunity, ” said Dr Raj Kumar.
However, Malaysian Medical Association president Prof Datuk Dr Subramaniam Muniandy said giving people the choice to pick their preferred vaccine brand would help to increase the uptake.
“It’s a good idea. Many countries allow this, for example, Singapore and the United States, ” he said.
On the strategy of delaying the interval for Pfizer-BioNTech, Dr Subramaniam said that since vaccine supply was projected to increase to almost 16 million doses by July, the dosage delay might not be necessary.
As for the government’s target of giving 150,000 jabs daily once the vaccine supply increases, Dr Subramaniam said this would be doable with more involvement from the private sector.
“Private hospitals are already administering vaccines for the immunisation programme and there are 2,500 private general practitioners (GPs) nationwide who have registered with ProtectHealth to participate as vaccinators under the national programme.
“A total of 5,000 private GPs including their staff have already received training and are waiting to begin the vaccination programme, but only 37 GPs are on-board.
“The 2,500 private GPs alone can carry out 75,000 vaccinations in a day, based on 30 vaccinations per clinic, ” he said, referring to ProtectHealth Corporation, which is a wholly-owned company under the Health Ministry.
On the proposal to allow for people to choose their vaccine, Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Adham Baba said that Khairy, who is his Covid-19 Vaccine Supply Access Guarantee Special Committee (JKJAV) co-chair, had yet to bring it up to the committee.
“I believe he was responding to a question by reporters on whether or not people will be allowed to choose their vaccine, and so he said that it could be a possibility.
“The proposal will need to be taken to the JKJAV first, ” he said.
As Malaysia logged a record 107,340 vaccine jabs dispensed on Thursday, Dr Adham said the government was serious in its commitment to reach herd immunity as fast as possible.
“Our plan is to accelerate the immunisation programme and, therefore, we have added the number of vaccine dispensing centres (PPVs) such as by opening up mega PPVs and roping in private healthcare facilities to help vaccinate more people, ” he added.
Dr Adham said private hospitals and GPs who were helping the ministry vaccinate people under the national programme were paid RM14 per dose administered.