Health

Does Malaysia Need to Pick Up the Pace of Its Vaccination Drive?

Coming soon to your upper arm! | Image Credit: The Straits Times
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At the current rate, some say, it’ll be 2026 before herd immunity is reached. The reality, however, is a bit more nuanced.

As of Malaysia’s latest reported data (reported on March 6, accounting for information through March 5), 112,914 doses of the Covid-19 vaccine had been given. That comes to 0.4 doses administered for each 100 residents, or less than one half of one percent

If you figure about 35 million people in Malaysia (citizens plus foreign residents), and want to vaccinate 80% of them, at the current rate, it would take about four years and nine months to hit that target. This little data point has made for some juicy comments and soundbites in the last couple of days.

Hey, why are Kelantan and Sarawak outpacing KL and Selangor??

It’s an alarming prospect to be sure, and doubtlessly an attention-grabbing headline, but as you may have already guessed, it’s not quite based in reality.

Indeed, the slow-appearing start is not at all as bad as it may seem for a couple of reasons, but only if you assume the pace will increase significantly in the coming weeks, and there is every reason to believe that will be the case. So why is that sub-113k number not at all bothersome?

First, there are a limited number of vaccine doses currently on hand. Malaysia has contracted for the purchase and delivery of 66.7 million total doses, but that stockpile of course will not all arrive at once. A good thing, too, as these vaccines do not have an indefinite shelf life, even at -70°C storage temperatures. The vaccines will be arriving in Malaysia in batches.

Second, the initial drive (Phase 1) is targeted to immunise some 500,000 frontliners in two priority groups, with the schedule calling for that to be completed by April. This goal looks well within reach. At some point in April, possibly overlapping with Phase 1, the next phase will kick in, which will look to vaccinate about 9.4 million higher-risk residents in Malaysia, including over-60s and those with medical conditions which make them more susceptible to Covid-19.

The first batch of Pfizer vaccines delivered via DHL with a police escort, February 24 | Image Credit: Malay Mail

Third, a more current total number of jabs, according to the Health Director General a couple of days ago, has risen to just shy of 140,000 since the last reported figures (above), suggesting that even now, the pace is already ramping up.

Finally, it’s important to note that Covid vaccines are intended for adults only, and adults are indeed the only ones eligible to receive the vaccine under Malaysia’s immunisation programme, so the actual number to use as a starting reference is considerably lower than 35 million, as you must first exclude everyone in Malaysia under the age of 18.

So don’t be unduly concerned when you see stories bouncing around about how slow Malaysia’s vaccine drive is. In reality, it’s gotten off to a good start!

To track the delivery of the vaccine worldwide (currently at over 312 million doses), just CLICK HERE.

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