KUALA LUMPUR, August 11 — Despite complete Covid-19 inoculation of 55 per cent of its total population, Sarawak yesterday reported its second highest single-day tally of 836 new infections.
According to the Sarawak state disaster management committee, all 836 new Covid-19 cases reported yesterday were either asymptomatic in Category One (85 per cent) or had mild symptoms in Category Two (15 per cent) upon testing positive.
Sarawak Local Government and Housing Minister Dr Sim Kui Hian said 41.4 per cent, or 346 of the 836 cases yesterday, had received two Covid-19 vaccine doses, but did not have immediate details on how many of these tested positive more than 14 days after the second dose, the period needed for complete protection from vaccination.
Another 13.8 per cent, or 116 of the 836 cases, had received their first dose. Another 13.6 per cent, or 114 people, were unvaccinated adults aged 18 and above, as Dr Sim urged people to get their jabs due to abundant supply.
Sarawak’s statistics suggest the possibility of breakthrough infections among fully vaccinated individuals, although most of these cases are mild, indicating vaccine efficacy in preventing severe disease and death.
Covid-19 cases have been rising in Sarawak since mid-July amid the spread of the Delta variant, particularly in Kuching. Sarawak reported 4,542 Covid-19 cases in the past week from August 4 to 10, a 31 per cent increase compared to 3,464 cases the previous week.
Graphics shared by Dr Sim, however, showed declining hospitalisation and intensive care unit (ICU) rates for Covid-19 patients in the state since early June, as the state’s rapid vaccine rollout picked up pace. Sarawak vaccinated 40 per cent of its population with at least one dose by early July.
Daily Covid-19 deaths in Sarawak, already low at below six since late February this year, peaked slightly earlier than hospitalisation and ICU rates. No Covid-19 deaths have so far been reported in fully vaccinated individuals 14 days after their second jab.
The rise in Covid-19 infections, amid declining severe cases and mortality, suggests that vaccination is weakening the link between infection and serious illness and death, at least in Sarawak. In other words, although vaccinated people can still get infected (and possibly transmit the virus), they are less likely to fall severely ill or die from Covid-19.
Dr Sim pointed out that the Covid-19 vaccine rollout in Greater Kuching before the spread of the highly transmissible Delta variant led to very few symptomatic and severe cases in Categories Three to Five or deaths.
“But we still need to be on high alert as the sheer numbers of people infected can pose a challenge to our hospital systems.”
In comparison, he noted that the vaccination campaign in Greater Kuala Lumpur only accelerated after Delta spread in the commercial region, resulting in overwhelmed hospitals and what he claimed to be exclusive RT-PCR testing of only Category Four and Five cases.
“Hence, mitigation stage,” Dr Sim wrote. “Let’s learn what not to do from others.”
Dr Sim also repeated his calls to vaccinate adolescents against Covid-19, noting that 31 per cent, or 260 people, of yesterday’s 836 new cases were aged below 18. About 29 per cent of Sarawak’s population is aged below 18.
He said the Sarawak state government should not await guidance from the federal administration and that the Sarawak Covid-19 Advisory Group (SCOVAG) has been asked to evaluate under-18s for coronavirus vaccination.
Sarawak is at the forefront of Malaysia’s Covid-19 vaccination campaign, with about 55 per cent of its total population double-jabbed as of yesterday, much higher than the national 28 per cent rate.
Dr Sim told CodeBlue yesterday that the Sarawak state government plans to purchase its own supply of Covid-19 vaccines for third doses expected to be administered in the state from October, without naming which vaccine developer the state is in negotiations with.
Sarawak is likely to procure either Sinovac or the recently authorised Moderna for booster shots, since Pfizer and AstraZeneca only deal with national governments.