Although both online and offline vaccine registrations were introduced last week, low public registration for the National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme (NIP) raises concerns that Malaysia might not achieve herd immunity anytime soon.
According to vaccine minister Khairy Jamaluddin, only 6.1 per cent of the population (1,468,137 individuals) had registered for vaccination via the MySejahtera mobile application as of March 1. It is far from the country’s desired target – to inoculate more than 80 per cent of the population (nearly 27 million out of 32 million Malaysians) by March 2022.
Up to date, there are five methods for Malaysian citizens to register for vaccination.
According to the NIP Handbook published by the Covid-19 Vaccine Supply Access Guarantee Special Committee (JKJAV), the public could either register their interest to be vaccinated online through MySejahtera mobile application or the website specifically on vaccination at www.vaksincovid.gov.my.
In terms of offline vaccine registration, there are three methods for the public to choose – contact a hotline set up for the purpose of registration from today (March 5) onwards; visit public or private health clinics; and through outreach programmes for residents in rural and remote areas.
The recent establishment of JKJAV and the Covid-19 Immunisation Task Force (CITF) is indeed a good start for Malaysia to kickstart mass immunisation. However, to ensure its successful implementation, a whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach is required, going beyond the auspices of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MOSTI), Ministry of Health Malaysia (MOH) and the National Security Council (NSC).
This would involve a host of different stakeholders such as non-governmental bodies, schools, universities and health care providers
To ensure every resident is vaccinated, Village Community Development Councils (MPKK), Community Development Officers (PPM) and resident committees need to play proactive roles in monitoring the vaccine coverage in their respective communities.
Even though government bodies and media outlets curated some online infographics, individuals who have limited digital devices or data connectivity might not understand how immunisation works and the advantages of vaccination.
Therefore, to ensure effective outreach programmes for residents in rural and remote areas, government agencies and non-governmental bodies must prepare the steps and potential side effects of immunisation in the form of leaflets, in addition to information disseminated through newspapers and magazines. They could explain the importance of vaccination while distributing leaflets through house-to-house visits.
Although registration for dependents, including elderly parents or individuals without smartphones, is expected to be made available via the MySejahtera mobile application in the middle of this month, children who are not staying with their elderly parents might not be able to assist in vaccine registration.
Due to the enforcement of the inter-state travel ban, Sabahans or Sarawakians currently working or living in Peninsular Malaysia could not fly back to their hometowns. They must undergo swab tests and apply for travel permits before reuniting with their parents.
To ensure everyone is vaccinated, government agencies and non-governmental bodies should assist the elderly in registering for vaccination via the MySejahtera mobile application, while explaining the procedures and possible side effects of vaccinations during house-to-house visits. They also could help individuals who do not have internet access or digital gadgets to register for vaccination.
In addition, MOH could adopt the U.S. approach – mobilising a large number of vaccine corps to volunteer in the vaccination programme.
Besides medical, nursing and pharmacy students, vaccine corps could be formed by community grassroots, comprising retired or unemployed clinicians. They could deliver vaccine shots, monitoring individuals who had just been vaccinated or scheduling second doses for the vaccines to be fully effective.
Students in the vaccine corps could be trained to administer vaccines in low-cost housing flats and shelters for the homeless and victims of domestic violence. They should also be provided transportation to vaccination sites or take doses directly to homebound elders who might have difficulty to travel from one place to another.
By mobilising vaccine corps on a large scale, MOH could accelerate the nationwide rollout of Covid-19 vaccines, besides ensuring doses are distributed equitably to every Malaysian citizen.
To speed up the immunisation processes, the government could also consider Indonesia’s approach – collaborating with private companies such as Grab and setting up drive-through vaccination service centres across Malaysia.
Furthermore, it is time for both federal and state governments to work together in providing mobile clinics for the convenience of rural residents in getting vaccinated.
Although the NIP has outlined the usage of mobile vaccination clinics, the majority of sites are concentrated within urban areas along the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia, as mentioned by Ezzaty Hasbullah on “Malaysia’s National Covid-19 Immunisation Plan: The missing details” (Malay Mail, February 17, 2021).
To address the issue of insufficient vaccination centres in some parts of East Malaysia, both the Sabah and Sarawak state governments should consider providing flying doctor services in the remote areas of both states. It would shorten the delivery times of vaccines and allow rural citizens in both states to be inoculated as soon as possible.
As suggested by R. Murali Rajaratenam on “Enhancing trust in the vaccine” (The Star, February 26, 2021), each state could establish a public oversight committee to review and report on Covid-19 vaccination systems. Thereby, target groups and underserved populations could receive vaccination from major medical and public health providers according to schedule.
By incorporating multiple immunisation strategies through public oversight, strong partnerships and community involvement in immunisation, the Malaysian government can implement a successful vaccination drive and build greater public confidence.
Amanda Yeo is Research Analyst at EMIR Research, an independent think tank focused on strategic policy recommendations based on rigorous research.
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