Sarawak Offers Opt-In AstraZeneca Vaccination To Eligible Adults

CITF Sarawak says AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine will be offered to all eligible people on a voluntary first-come, first-served basis in Sarawak.

KUALA LUMPUR, May 18 — The Sarawak state government has decided to open up registration to all those eligible for AstraZeneca-Oxford’s Covid-19 vaccine on a voluntary first-come, first-served basis by appointment.

The Covid-19 Immunisation Task Force (CITF) Sarawak cited an online survey by a local paper in Sarawak conducted on May 4 that showed 52.9 per cent of 1,040 respondents expressed willingness to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine.

About 69.4 per cent of 1,037 respondents were in favour of giving Sarawakians the option of getting inoculated with AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine.

“The vaccine will be supplied to Sarawak through the coordination of the National Covid-19 Immunisation Task Force (National CITF) and will be offered to the eligible population on a voluntary ‘first-come, first-served’ – by appointment basis,” CITF Sarawak said in a statement today.

“Separate, designated vaccination centres will be set up and prepared for this purpose and will be announced in due time.”

CITF Sarawak said it initially decided not to roll out AstraZeneca’s vaccine because of the federal government’s previous announcement that 8,000 people had cancelled their vaccine registration when AstraZeneca’s vaccine was first included in the National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme (PICK). People registering for Covid-19 vaccination under PICK cannot choose their vaccine.

“The Sarawak government did not want the Covid-19 Vaccination Programme in Sarawak to be jeopardised by the fear and hesitancy due to the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine.”

The federal government subsequently put the AstraZeneca vaccine on a separate opt-in voluntary stream — first rolling it out on a first-come, first served basis through an online booking system for all adults aged 18 and above in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor. 

Vaccine Minister Khairy Jamaluddin announced yesterday that the next round of the opt-in stream for AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine would be opened only for people aged 60 and above in Selangor, Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Sarawak, and Johor from May 23. The general public can only register for the AstraZeneca vaccine after May 26 if there are excess slots.

CITF Sarawak, however, has now opened up the AstraZeneca vaccine for all those eligible. The National Pharmaceutical Regulatory Agency (NPRA) has approved the shot for adults aged 18 and above. 

Sarawak Deputy Chief Minister Douglas Uggah Embas declined to confirm when asked if Sarawak was opening up bookings for the AstraZeneca vaccine to adults aged 18 and above or only for those aged 60 and above, telling CodeBlue: “We’ll follow KKM (Ministry of Health) guidelines. We’ll follow CITF KL”.

According to CITF Sarawak’s statement, the Sarawak Covid-19 Vaccine Advisory Group (SCoVAG) had earlier recommended the use of AstraZeneca’s vaccine for people aged above 60 years in urban areas, based on on the very low overall severe adverse events of 6.5 per million doses and the high benefit-to-risk ratio among those above 60 years old.

“However, this evidence-based recommendation had to be balanced with the reality in society where many people were wary and hesitant to get vaccinated after the AstraZeneca vaccine was announced to be used,” said CITF Sarawak.

Khairy said yesterday that AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine is not recommended for pregnant women, while safety data for breastfeeding mothers is limited. Only the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus shot is recommended for pregnant women at between 14 and 33 weeks of pregnancy; it is also suitable for breastfeeding mothers.

Sarawak is one of the main Covid-19 epicentres in Malaysia, reporting 3,272 infections in the 19th epidemiological week from May 9 to 15, about 11 per cent of 29,386 cases reported nationwide. 

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