KUALA LUMPUR, July 18 — Another mega Covid-19 vaccination site (PPV) in Shah Alam, Selangor, has been hit by coronavirus infections, this time at the Setia City Convention Centre (SCCC).
More disturbingly, SCCC PPV volunteers accused the PPV management of not informing staff about four Covid-19 cases detected among volunteers so far, or the identities of close or casual contacts. Three volunteers tested positive for the coronavirus last Monday, while another informed a PPV coworker earlier today about his diagnosis.
The SCCC PPV management allegedly did not instruct mass screening of staff and failed to produce guidelines specifying steps to be taken by both the facility management and staff in the event a positive Covid-19 case is detected in their workplace at the vaccination centre.
Instead, two SCCC PPV volunteers told CodeBlue that they found out about the three Covid-19 cases from the latter themselves and that the PPV volunteers who subsequently got swabbed did so on their own accord. One of them later tested positive, leading to at least four confirmed coronavirus infections among SCCC PPV staff as of today.
Quinn (not her real name) said the SCCC PPV management merely asked her to submit her name for a swab test, but nothing else was done as of yesterday.
“They didn’t tell us who is positive,” Quinn, a volunteer at the SCCC PPV, told CodeBlue yesterday on condition of anonymity.
“They didn’t tell me that I’m a close contact. They’re not taking any initiative to provide swab tests to everyone, so I took my own initiative to do a swab test,” added Quinn, who is fully inoculated with the Sinovac vaccine provided by the SCCC PPV. She tested negative Friday and has been self-isolating since.
Quinn said the three initial volunteers who contracted Covid-19 — two women in their 20s and a man in his 40s — casually texted the volunteers’ large WhatsApp group of 203 members about their positive test result, after which the PPV management simply texted the chat group to follow Covid-19 standard operating procedures (SOPs) and to keep a one-metre distance from each other.
“Tried to stay negative..but positive jugakk,” read one cryptic message by one of the positive Covid-19 cases in the WhatsApp group Friday, crowded out by hundreds of other messages, as sighted by CodeBlue.
When someone later asked the WhatsApp group how close contacts could be identified without an announcement on who had tested positive, when, and which section of the mega PPV that the positive case was working at, a volunteers’ leader from the government expressed concern about sparking public panic if all SCCC PPV staff were formally notified about the Covid-19 cases.
“Whichever staff tested positive will inform us and we will ask who was near him or her. There, we will advise those who were nearby to get swabbed,” one of the volunteers’ leaders texted the SCCC volunteers’ WhatsApp group yesterday, as sighted by CodeBlue.
“Management is concerned that if an announcement is made, it will spark panic among the staff and lead to the spread of fake and untrue news,” he said in his WhatsApp message to the volunteers’ group.
According to another SCCC volunteer called Taylor (not their real name), who spoke to CodeBlue on condition of anonymity, a fourth SCCC PPV worker, a man above the age of 40, told him or her earlier today about testing positive for Covid-19 after taking his own initiative to get swabbed, upon hearing informally of the three initial positive cases among volunteers.
SCCC is now the second PPV, which vaccinates thousands of people a day, to record Covid-19 infections among staff. Last Tuesday, Vaccine Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said 204, nearly half of 453 staff at Ideal Convention Centre (IDCC), also another mega PPV in Shah Alam, tested positive for Covid-19 in a mass screening undertaken after two volunteers contracted the virus. The Ministry of Health (MOH) has since classified the outbreak as a cluster, named the Jalan Pahat 15 cluster.
SCCC volunteers’ disturbing allegations about the apparently lax safety practices at their workplace — which may place PPV staff and people coming for their jabs at risk of contracting Covid-19 at a time when Klang Valley hospitals are full — emerged even as the government is attempting to accelerate vaccination in the commercial region through “Operation Surge Capacity”.
Volunteers’, Vaccinees’ MySejahtera Status Not Strictly Checked
Quinn claimed that SCCC PPV has previously allowed entry to Covid-19-positive vaccinees or vacineees designated on their MySejahtera mobile app as a close contact.
“Sometimes they are very strict, sometimes they are not,” Quinn told CodeBlue.
The volunteer highlighted an alleged incident at SCCC PPV last month when a Covid-19-positive person managed to enter the centre, after which the facility was “sanitised” for a bit.
“Some [Covid-19] positive vaccinees managed to enter the PPV because they didn’t get proper notifications from MySejahtera,” said Quinn. “They’re supposed to get the message that if they’re positive, they are not allowed to go to the PPV and their appointments will be automatically rescheduled.”
Taylor alleged that the SCCC PPV does not check volunteers’ personal health status on MySejahtera — which flags close contacts, patients-under-investigation, or confirmed Covid-19 cases — whenever they clock in to work. Only vaccinees’ MySejahtera status is checked.
Taylor told CodeBlue that close contacts of the positive cases at SCCC PPV may still turn up for work at the vaccination centre while waiting for their Covid-19 test results, since management did not issue a formal directive to staff to do swab tests.
“We’re meeting up to 10,000 people a day and we may have among us those who are actually positive, but there is no SOP, there is no guideline about this,” said Taylor. “Except the general guideline on the MyVAC website.”
The website of Malaysia Vaccine Support Volunteers (MyVAC) — which recruits both health care and non-health care volunteers for the National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme (PICK) — only has a general video on the workflow in PPVs.
MyVAC FAQs merely tell volunteers to comply with all instructions and SOPs set, besides: “Volunteers are not allowed to speak to the media without permission from their respective supervisors at the VAC.”
However, Quinn said the close contacts of the positive Covid-19 cases among volunteers at SCCC PPV told each other that they have isolated themselves after getting tested on their own accord.
No Hand Sanitiser, Small Gatherings Permitted In Pantry
Quinn also complained about the lack of hand sanitiser at the SCCC PPV, saying that volunteers had to clean their hands with vaccinees’ own sanitiser.
“When you go to the mall, sanitiser is provided, but there’s none at the PPV, so it’s quite dangerous,” she said. “We’re dealing with 13,000 people per day.”
Quinn normally takes her meal breaks with other volunteers in a pantry at the SCCC PPV. The rule now is four to a table; previously, it was six. The PPV doesn’t clean the tablecloth in the pantry, she said, nor the cloth on the registration table.
Taylor said that although SCCC gives volunteers face shields, they are not frequently worn. Volunteers wear their own face masks. It was only last week when daily Covid-19 cases exceeded 10,000 that the PPV management encouraged staff to double-mask.
SCCC volunteers also previously organised snack sessions after their shifts among themselves, Taylor said. When asked if Taylor has been vaccinated, Taylor said they got vaccinated on their own accord, not from the PPV.
According to FAQs on MyVAC’s website, volunteers cannot apply to receive Covid-19 vaccines in advance. “Vaccination will be given according to the prescribed phase.”
Taylor claimed that many volunteers at SCCC, which began operations on June 7, were only vaccinated by the PPV “much later” after complaints.
It is unknown who exactly is responsible for managing workers’ safety at PPVs. Malaysia Vaccine Support Volunteers (MyVAC) is a platform established in collaboration with the Ministry of Health (MOH), the Ministry of Science, Technology & Innovation (MOSTI), the Ministry of Youth and Sports (KBS), the Ministry of Higher Education (KPT) and Malaysian Red Crescent Society (MRCS).
A message sent by CodeBlue to MyVAC’s WhatsApp account earlier today, asking for confirmation on the Covid-19 cases at SCCC PPV, went unanswered.
ProtectHealth Corporation, a fully-owned MOH company, appointed IHH Healthcare Malaysia as a health care organiser at SCCC. When contacted, IHH told CodeBlue that it was one of three health care organisers appointed to provide Covid-19 vaccination at SCCC.
“We at IHH Healthcare adhere to the strict measures enforced by the Ministry of Health to ensure the safety of staff, volunteers and visitors at the Mega PPV. There has not been any positive cases of Covid-19 among our staff or volunteers at the centre,” said an IHH Healthcare Malaysia representative in a brief statement to CodeBlue today.
The Covid-19 Immunisation Task Force (CITF) has yet to respond to questions from CodeBlue at the time of writing when contacted earlier today.
Crowds Sometimes Turn Up At SCCC
According to Taylor, there are about 60 volunteers per day at stations 1 and 2 at the SCCC PPV. The morning session is from 8am to 3pm, while the afternoon session is from 2pm to 9pm, both of which are usually run by the same volunteers.
Stations 1 and 2 register vaccinees and record their personal information, whereas Stations 3 and 4 are staffed by medical volunteers who perform consultation, get consent from vaccinees for vaccination, and administer the jabs.
Taylor explained that people who go to SCCC for their shots do not always come in staggered batches, as there are occasions when the mega PPV is relatively empty in the morning or afternoon, but crowds of vaccinees later turn up in the evening.
“We have to know the capacity of the hall per session,” Taylor said, adding that the distanced chairs in the PPV may not prevent transmission of the virus in a crowded facility, as vaccinees get up to move from station to station.
“The convention centre is well ventilated, but it doesn’t seem so when capacity is full.”
Travel Cost May Hinder Vaccination
Taylor called for Covid-19 vaccination appointments to be given on the same date and venue to members of the same household to reduce people’s movements during the surging epidemic.
Taylor highlighted the case of vaccination appointments on different dates and venues for a man and his wife, a person with disability in a wheelchair, who live in Petaling Jaya.
The man, who doesn’t own a car, told Taylor that he may forgo his vaccination appointment at another venue because the e-hailing fare for him and his wife to travel to SCCC for his wife’s shot was too expensive.
“He looked like he was using the same mask over and over again. He can’t even afford his face mask and we expect them to come here,” said Taylor.
Enable Vaccinees To Self-Register At PPV
Taylor suggested allowing people coming for their jabs to scan their own arrival at the PPV if they have smartphones, instead of getting volunteers to register them manually, to save time and reduce movements in the vaccination centre.
Taylor pointed out that at Station 2 in the PPV, when the volunteer records the vaccinee’s personal details, the Malaysia Vaccine Administration System (MyVAS) has very limited options for information like occupation and industry of work for the vaccinee.
“It’s very general, it doesn’t matter. So my point is, why do we have to do all this? We are increasing the amount of time and movement,” said Taylor, pointing out that retail food chains like McDonald’s have self-order kiosks.
Taylor added that there is no need either for vaccinees to show their MyKad to PPV staff, like what is being practiced currently, if PPVs provide self-registration mechanisms.
PPVs shouldn’t be photocopying tens of thousands of vaccination consent forms either, said Taylor. Instead, the general public should be told to fill in and print their own consent form at home, since the document is available on MySejahtera. New form formats can also be updated by the app if necessary. Photocopied consent forms should only be provided at the PPV for people who do not have printers.
The help desk at PPVs is unable to help the general public on problems with MySejahtera, said Taylor, while the electronic help desk on the mobile app only provides automated replies to questions.
“Put someone at the help desk for MySejahtera people to attend to that. PPV volunteers currently have to absorb all the complaints from the public on MySejahtera.”
Taylor complained about the differing systems used for queueing and registering vaccinees, questioning the need for vaccinees to get two slips of paper with the same number on their forms that are not connected to the MyVAS system.
Volunteers at Station 1 print and clip a slip with a number on vaccinees’ forms that must be subsequently keyed into the system at Station 2.
“When you go to the bank, you press the screen and you get your number. That number will correspond to the same number on the screen. It’s as simple as that. I don’t think it’s rocket science. It’s very simple.”
Correction: The third sentence from the bottom has been corrected to specify that vaccinees receive two slips of paper with the same number on their forms, not that they receive two different numbers as originally reported.