Phase Two of the National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme (PICK) kicked off on April 19, 2021, with Priority Group One covering the remaining health care workers and those in essential services, while Priority Group Two covered senior citizens, high risk groups with chronic diseases and people with disabilities.
Conspicuously missing were mentions of medical students who participate in ward duties and come into direct contact with patients alongside physicians on a daily basis.
The Society of Malaysian Medical Association Medical Students (SMMAMS) urges the authorities to consider including medical students in Phase Two of PICK. We are grateful towards the medical schools that have either included medical students in their vaccination plans or attempted to get their students vaccinated. We also acknowledge the difficulties faced by other medical schools in getting their students vaccinated.
Medical students can become a protective buffer in the clinical setting with the completion of Phase One and the commencement of Phase Two. Medical students should be regarded as part of the medical team; performing history taking, physical examinations and assisting in procedures in the clinics and wards are an integral and indispensable part of their education.
However, they are being left behind, living with the constant fear and anxiety of contracting and passing on the disease to the already vulnerable patients.
The unprecedented times brought on by the pandemic has had a profound impact on medical education. Medicine, as a profession, requires hands-on learning and bedside teaching to obtain competencies that cannot be acquired by online learning.
This has been severely compromised by the restrictions brought on by the pandemic. Medical students face issues such as inadequate clinical exposure, inability to fulfil graduation requirements and deferment of studies leading to financial and psychological stress.
These would translate to reduced competencies when they eventually join the health care workforce.
Therefore, SMMAMS calls for the National Covid-19 Immunisation Task Force to :
- Prioritise Covid-19 vaccination for all medical students in Malaysia that are actively participating in clinical duties after the vaccination of all health care workers.
- Factor in additional allocation of Covid-19 vaccines for medical students in the distribution for hospitals and universities throughout Malaysia.
Medical schools and institutions of higher learning must:
- Support and advocate on behalf of their medical students to be prioritised in receiving Covid-19 vaccinations, after healthcare workers and clinical lecturers.
- Acknowledge the potential risks faced by unvaccinated medical students and recognise the delay of vaccination for medical students as a potential cause for reduced competency in clinical skills.
Elected Members of Parliament and Cabinet Ministers should:
- Serve as the mouthpiece of medical students to raise concerns on the risks shouldered by students while participating in clinical duties.
- Understand and acknowledge that vaccinations among medical students should be prioritised to reduce the risk of transmission of Covid-19.
- Actively engage in open discourses with medical students to better understand their learning conditions.
Medical students are the health care workers of tomorrow. This is acknowledged by other countries such as Hong Kong and the Philippines, where medical students are included in the vaccination plan together with frontliners.
It is imperative that the safety of medical students are looked after to safeguard the future of our health care system.
SMMAMS is the Society of Malaysian Medical Association Medical Students.
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