Making The Vaccine Effort A Success Together — Akhramsyah Sanusi

There should be a single point of reference on all communications regarding PICK, with the entire government, including even all Cabinet members, aligning with this focal point’s messaging.

The cornerstone of PN’s Covid-19 strategy has always been the National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme or Program Imunisasi Covid-19 Kebangsaan (PICK). PICK is such a critical effort that the Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation, Khairy Jamaluddin, was put in charge instead of Dr Adham Baba, the Minister of Health.

There have been challenges, but what now plagues it is a lack of faith on PICK due to its under-performance against commitments to the Rakyat. This has been exacerbated by an active antivaxxer movement, particularly among Malays and Bumiputras.

According to Our World in Data, a project under the UK based non-profit Global Change Data Lab, backed among others by the University of Oxford, just over 2.2 million Malaysians have received their first vaccine dose, and just over 1.1 million, or 3.5% of the population, have been fully vaccinated as of 4 June 2021.

This is less than 20% of the plan committed to by Khairy in April 2021. Undoubtedly, there has been an improvement of late, likely attributable to the AstraZeneca optional rollout program, nevertheless PICK is well behind relative to its own planning.

In realising this, Khairy on 3 June 2021, announced a plan to ramp up PICK to enable application of 150,000 vaccine doses a day by June and 200,000 doses a day by July 2021. New vaccination facilities are also coming active across the country such as at the Malaysia International Trade and Exhibition Centre (MITEC). Unfortunately, all this was undermined just a day later when the Minister of International Trade and Industry (MITI), Azmin Ali, in an interview with CNBC conveyed that vaccination rates will reach 200,000 doses a day by end of June and 400,000 doses a day by July.

The MITI Minister then declared to the world that Malaysia would achieve herd immunity among its adult population by having 80% of our 26 million adults inoculated by August 2021. Not only is Azmin’s statements inconsistent with Khairy’s, but it is also mathematically infeasible! A back of an envelope calculation shows that, with all Covid-19 vaccines approved in Malaysia to date needing 2 doses to achieve full inoculation, even if we can achieve 400,000 doses a day by July, herd immunity of our adult population can only be achieved by October 2021 at earliest!

Such inconsistencies are grist for the mill for the greatest enemy of PICK, the antivaxxer movement that has now moved from social media advocacy to active campaigning amongst Tok Batins in the Orang Asli communities in Pahang. Malaysians need to be reassured by consistent messaging of a realistic and coherent plan for Covid-19. In addition to inconsistencies with PICK, focus from it is also undermined when ministers over-react to views by experts on related issues such as the sanitisation dispute between Zuraida Kamaruddin and Professor Dr Adeeba Kamarulzaman.

Notwithstanding political disagreements, all sides of the political divide have clearly thrown their support behind the national vaccination program, but we must remain critical of its shortcomings. Such criticism is not for the sake of partisan politics but from a realisation that PICK must succeed to save Malaysian lives and to allow the rakyat to begin to recover from the vagaries of the pandemic. Among other things, success of PICK requires:

Consistent and transparent communication of all aspects of the vaccine program, to address confusion as well as to curtail efforts to sow suspicion by our true enemy, the antivaxxer lobby that presents a clear and present danger to us all. To this end, there should be a single point of reference on all communications regarding PICK, with the entire government, including even all Cabinet members, aligning with this focal point’s messaging. The only exception to this perhaps would be the PM.

An honest achievable plan needs to be drawn up at last and shared to all stakeholders especially the rakyat, indicating the realities facing our nation in crisis and not coloured by the necessities of business, investment or politics. The plan of course will undergo adjustments, we hope for the better, but likely to account for unforeseen drawbacks. Nevertheless, credibility needs to be restored by a plan all Malaysian can rely on being delivered. This is the starting point where expert resources should be drawn to assist, through to implementation level, if it has not already.

Begin open engagement of all experts in fields pertinent to the vaccine roll-out, not just medical, but pharmaceutical, logistics, communications and others with the aim of turning critics into advocates and allies of the program. The government, especially government ministers should not be defensive but rather listen openly, engage and accept criticism as well as recommendations from the likes of Dr Christopher Lee, Dr Musa Nordin, Dr Amar Singh, who are among many from just the medical profession where consultations can begin.

Acknowledge that it may take as long as the beginning of next year before we achieve herd immunity. Hence, PICK needs to be supplemented by a cultural change programme to mould safe behaviours among our communities, enabling the rakyat to pursue livelihoods in the interim. Such a Safety Culture programme goes beyond just communication and enforcement of SOPs that clearly have had shortcomings as well. Masking, Social Distancing and other behaviours should be second nature, allowing for the application of other safety tools such as ‘Safety Bubbles’ and the like.

The challenge of beating Covid-19 and thriving in the New Normal continues, but with proper planning and being inclusive of all wishing to contribute regardless of what typically divides us, we will not only survive but begin thriving again together.

Akhramsyah Sanusi is the head of research of Parti Pejuang Tanah Air.

  • This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of CodeBlue.

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