KUALA LUMPUR, June 1 — The Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) today accused Khairy Jamaluddin of not engaging private general practitioners (GPs) for the national Covid-19 vaccine rollout.
MMA, the country’s largest association of doctors, said it had officially written to Khairy last March 2 to meet on plans for private GPs to be involved in the National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme (PICK), but there has been no reply from the vaccine minister’s office or from the Special Committee for Ensuring Access to Covid-19 Vaccine Supply (JKJAV) to date.
“Why are there only 2,500 GPs registered for PICK? The minister should have come down from his high horse to meet with us months ago when we wrote to him.
“Perhaps that would have encouraged more GPs to get on board. What a difference it would have made if he showed some interest,” MMA president Dr Subramaniam Muniandy said in a statement issued today.
MMA honorary general secretary Dr Arasu told CodeBlue that the reason why many GPs were reluctant to join PICK as vaccinators was because of bureaucracy, administrative work, lack of clarity, and the requirement for family doctors to collect the coronavirus vaccines from storage sites, as opposed to having a supplier delivering the shots to clinics.
He pointed out that setting up PPVs outside private clinics involved other costs like set-up, manpower, crowd control, training, and deployment of the authorities for crowd control, whereas clinics running as PPVs only involve RM14 fee per dose administered, which totals RM240,000 per day for 8,000 clinics.
“For the money saved in engaging the GPs, they can be compensated better as they don’t do economic of scale but will surely address the government’s concern and can assist in achieving the herd immunity,” said Dr Arasu.
Khairy told a press conference yesterday that a total of 2,467 private medical practitioners have registered for PICK to date, with 1,665 having undergone training. He said appointment letters had been issued to 1,482 private clinics and hospitals.
According to Khairy, not all private GPs wanted to take part in PICK as it required preparations in the form of training on storage and administering the Covid-19 vaccine. Among the three coronavirus vaccines in PICK, only one — the Pfizer-BioNTech shot — requires ultra-cold storage temperatures. The AstraZeneca and Sinovac vaccines can be stored at normal fridge temperatures.
The 2,500 GPs who have registered with ProtectHealth Corporation (PHCorp) — the Ministry of Health-owned company managing private medical practitioners under PICK — represent only 30.8 per cent of 8,000 GP clinics nationwide.
Dr Subramaniam said if earlier engagements were made by the ministries concerned, most of the 2,500 private GPs would have already received training by the end of April and would be ready to begin vaccinating in early May — the timeline targeted to begin the programme.
“Even with 2,500 GPs, 75,000 vaccinations could be carried out per day. I am sure the minister is well aware of this as it has been widely publicised.
“If he is indeed aware, then as the minister in charge of PICK, he should be bugging the GPs night and day if the programme was not moving along, knowing they are the best, easiest option and most readily available resource to carry out vaccinations as proven in programmes run in other countries,” he said.
On the training required for the vaccinations, Dr Subramaniam said it mostly involved cold-chain requirements for vaccine storage, while he described administrative procedures as nothing too technical or scientific.
“The training is done online and it takes only two to three hours to complete. Even using the special syringe is not complicated. They should trust the doctor to know how to handle one,” he said.
“If the minister is aware that there is too much red tape in the way of the programme with private clinics, then as the coordinating minister for PICK, he should do something about it.
“We only want things to work because like the minister as well as all Malaysians, we too, want PICK to be a great success so that the country can recover from this nightmare of a pandemic as quickly as possible,” he added.
MMA has previously complained about government bureaucracy — specifically the state JKJAV in Selangor and Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya — preventing private GPs from administering Covid-19 vaccines.
The MMA said out of the 2,500 GP clinics registered with ProtectHealth Corporation (PHCorp), more than 1,800 have attended PHCorp’s mandatory training, but only 184 are currently conducting Covid-19 vaccination. This comprises only about 7 per cent of the 2,500 GP clinics registered with PHCorp.