Economic Frontliners, General Public Getting Covid-19 Vaccines Early: Khairy

Frontline workers in manufacturing, construction, aviation, and oil and gas sectors, and Johoreans who need to commute to Singapore for work, as well as anyone who has already signed up on MySejahtera, may be prioritised for Covid-19 vaccination from April, says Khairy Jamaluddin.

KUALA LUMPUR, March 25 — The government will prioritise frontline workers in crucial economic sectors, especially from red states, for Covid-19 inoculation amid slow vaccine registration of high-risk groups, Khairy Jamaluddin said.

People who have already signed up on MySejahtera for vaccination, regardless of their risk levels for severe Covid-19 disease, also may be able to get their shots as early as April or May, instead of having to wait for the inoculation of elderly people or those with comorbidities in Phase Two of the national rollout that starts next month.

According to the vaccine minister, the Covid-19 Immunisation Task Force (CITF) is looking at sectors like manufacturing, construction, aviation, oil and gas, and “front-facing economic sectors”, noting that many Covid-19 clusters have emerged among factory workers, while infections have also been reported in oil refineries.

Malaysians living in Johor — with most districts in the red reporting more than 40 coronavirus infections over the past fortnight — who need to commute daily to Singapore for work may also be prioritised for coronavirus vaccination to reopen the southern border, Khairy said, citing his discussions with the Singaporean foreign minister Tuesday.

CITF will formally announce the economic sectors that have been prioritised for Covid-19 inoculation based on contributions to the economy and risk assessments by the Ministry of Health (MOH).

“We are taking a more dynamic look at Phase Two,” Khairy told CodeBlue in an exclusive interview yesterday.

“We’ve been able to do this because the number of registrations is still quite low. So, while waiting for senior citizens and people with comorbidities to register, we have some buffer to play around with for some of these economic sectors.”

When asked if foreign workers, such as in construction or manufacturing, would also receive early Covid-19 vaccination in Phase Two of the national inoculation programme, Khairy said: “Absolutely. The virus knows no nationality. It’s for everyone”.

He added that people in Phase Three of the Covid-19 vaccination programme, which is for the general public, will be given early appointments, together with economic frontline workers, as the government awaits senior citizens or those with underlying health conditions to sign up for their shots.

“If you registered early for Phase Three, don’t be surprised you can get your appointment in the next month or so.”

Khairy Jamaluddin, Vaccine Minister

“I’ve made the decision that we’re not going to wait for people to register under Phase Two. If it’s going to be slow, then we just move Phase Three up. There’s no point waiting for people as long as we get a constant stream of vaccines coming in. I’m hoping to negotiate with Pfizer to bring some forward into Quarter Two, then we just vaccinate whoever is registered already.”

When asked if CITF is planning to work with doctors to register their patients with chronic diseases for Covid-19 vaccination, Khairy said that is in the works, but believed that it would still take time because inoculation is voluntary.

“It’s not that the doctors can register them there and then. They will also take time to think about it and their reluctance is still there. We will cater for face-to-face consultation between doctors and their existing patients to encourage them to get vaccinated, but we still feel that that will take some time. So while waiting for that, we just move people who are registered up the queue and get them done.”

The vaccine minister also said the government has activated door-to-door manual registration of people for Covid-19 vaccination through the National Disaster Management Agency (NADMA) and the Malaysia Civil Defence Force (APM), besides working with state governments, village committees, and MPs’ party machinery. NADMA and APM’s vaccine registration efforts are nationwide, but primarily focused on rural areas, especially in Sabah, Terengganu, and Kelantan that have “extraordinarily” slow vaccine take-up rates.

“We’ve identified companies, GLCs (government-linked corporations), big companies that have been listed under Bursa Malaysia, working together with them to say that you should encourage, or if not encourage, seriously encourage your employees to get vaccinated,” Khairy added.

Only 26.56 per cent of the Malaysian population aged 18 and above have registered on the MySejahtera app for Covid-19 vaccination as of March 23, just up by 2.36 percentage points in a week from 24.2 per cent population coverage as of March 17.

Khairy’s office told CodeBlue that only about 1.68 million elderly people or those with comorbidities have signed up on MySejahtera for Covid-19 vaccination, or 26 per cent of 6,442,512 people registered on the app for jabs as of March 23. CITF initially targeted 9.4 million people aged above 60 or those with underlying medical conditions for vaccination in Phase Two of the inoculation drive.

“Even though the registration is about six million right now, I do feel that once more people get vaccinated, the numbers will start to pick up,” Khairy said.

“People will start seeing the benefits of getting vaccination, whether it’s freedom to cross state lines, to travel, or them starting to see the [Covid-19] case numbers fall, the number of deaths and number of hospitalisations falling.”

Khairy Jamaluddin, Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation

“It’s only just been a month, so it’s still relatively early days. I don’t want to press the panic button saying that we should make it mandatory. We’re working hard, we’re stepping up the communications. A lot more needs to be done and can be done. And we certainly understand that and we want to work harder. But I do think things will pick up, especially once we have more vaccines in play.”

Khairy said about 15 to 16 million Covid-19 vaccine doses are expected to be delivered to Malaysia in the second quarter of the year, comprising 3.7 million Pfizer-BioNTech doses, five million Sinovac doses (upon regulatory approval of Pharmaniaga Berhad’s fill-and-finish facility of the human vaccine), five million Sputnik V doses, 1.38 million doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine from COVAX, and possibly a part of Malaysia’s direct procurement order from AstraZeneca.

Malaysia’s COVAX order of about 1.38 million doses is manufactured in South Korea and will be fulfilled by Unicef that has been contracted by Gavi, the vaccine alliance. The directly procured 6.4 million AstraZeneca vaccine doses are produced in Thailand. Khairy said AstraZeneca Malaysia will inform him between March 28 and 30 on the delivery schedule for Malaysia’s direct order.

“It doesn’t originate from the EU (European Union), so there are no issues with export controls,” Khairy said.

AFP reported yesterday that the European Commission will tighten export restrictions on coronavirus vaccines produced in the EU, amid ongoing tussles with the United Kingdom and AstraZeneca as the UK-based pharmaceutical company fell short on deliveries promised to the EU. Malaysia’s supply of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine comes from Belgium.

“On Pfizer, we’ve managed to overcome, so far, whatever problems that we anticipated earlier. I spoke with the EU and Belgium ambassador, and everything has arrived on schedule,” Khairy told CodeBlue.

“Coincidentally, I’m having dinner with the Belgium ambassador as well as all the EU ambassadors tonight. I will again remind them that we hope that whatever vaccine exports that originate from the EU to Malaysia will not be affected by current news that we hear on restrictions from the EU. So far, I’ve not heard anything that will adversely affect our deliveries from the EU.”

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