KUALA LUMPUR, June 17 — The federal government plans to deploy Pfizer-BioNTech’s Covid-19 shot to Labuan to measure vaccine efficacy against the Delta variant ravaging the small island with skyrocketing infections and fatalities.
Vaccine Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said the outbreak containment actions taken in Labuan will be used in a real-world study to evaluate the transmissibility of the Delta variant and how the dominant Covid-19 strain on the island neighbouring Sabah responds to an expedited vaccination drive.
“We have to continue to monitor the spread of the Delta variant and that might have an impact on the vaccination threshold as we move from one phase to another,” he said yesterday during The Oxford and Cambridge Society Malaysia’s “The Path to Herd Immunity” online discourse.
Khairy said the central government has placed Labuan on a priority list and will be sending sufficient vaccines to inoculate about 60,000 adults in the federal territory, whose population is slightly less than 100,000 people, by mid-July. Labuan has an estimated 72,400 residents aged 18 and above.
Labuan is projected to be the first territory in Malaysia to reach the 80 per cent goal of full Covid-19 vaccination of the total population. As of June 16, about 13 per cent of Labuan’s total population, or 13,342 adults, have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19.
“Although all vaccines are showing good efficacy against the Delta variant, Pfizer has good real-world data so we are sending Pfizer to see how that helps Labuan reduce their caseload and lessen the transmissibility of the virus.
“It will be a very useful live case for us because Labuan is an island, so essentially it’s contained. If we send Pfizer very quickly there and jab everyone quickly, we can see how that variant responds to the vaccination drive,” the science, technology and innovation minister said.
In the past week from June 10 to 16, Labuan recorded the highest Covid-19 incidence rate in Malaysia at 1,046.18 cases per 100,000 people, nearly nine times higher than the national incidence rate of 119.68 cases per 100,000 population. The second highest incidence rate was recorded in Negeri Sembilan at 312.79 cases per 100,000 people in those seven days, three times lower than Labuan.
Labuan also reported the country’s top coronavirus mortality rate at 291.16 deaths per million population that week, nearly 18 times higher than the national death rate of 16.24 fatalities per million people. Negeri Sembilan reported the second highest death rate at 45.78 fatalities that week per million people, six times lower than Labuan.
In other words, Labuan found about 11 coronavirus cases in every 1,000 people in the past seven days, while about 29 people died per its whole population of some 100,000 people. Using incidence rates enables equal comparison across states with different population sizes.
The actual spread of the Delta variant in Labuan is unknown due to limited genomic sequencing. The National Institutes of Health under the Ministry of Health reported that only 509 successful genome sequences of SARS-CoV-2 have been carried out as of June 9, comprising 0.1 per cent of 520,881 new infections recorded this year. The 509 genome sequences revealed 13 cases of the Delta variant, among others.
According to The British Medical Journal, the Delta variant is approximately 60 per cent more transmissible in the UK compared to the Alpha variant and has a higher risk of hospitalisation.
A recently published real-world analysis by Public Health England (PHE) showed that two doses of Covid-19 vaccines are highly effective against hospitalisation from the Delta variant.
The study suggests that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is 96 per cent effective against hospitalisation after two doses, while the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine is 92 per cent effective against hospitalisation upon completion of its two-dose regime.
Further work remains underway to establish the level of protection against mortality from the Delta variant. However, as with other variants, this is expected to be high, said PHE. PHE’s analysis included 14,019 cases of the Delta variant – 166 of whom were hospitalised – between April 12 and June 4, based on emergency hospital admissions in England.