KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 15 — A Covid-19 vaccination centre in Kuching, Sarawak, refused to give booster jabs to at least six elderly people who turned up for their appointments, a doctor claimed.
The doctor — who brought his 73-year-old mother to the Klinik Kesihatan Kota Sentosa PPV at the Christian Ecumenical Worship Centre (CEWC) in Kuching for her November 13 booster appointment at 8am — said the medical officer in charge at the PPV told him that his mother, plus six to eight senior citizens in their 60s or 70s queueing ahead, could not receive their boosters because their appointments fell short of the six-month threshold for their additional shot.
The doctor’s mother received a November 13 appointment on her MySejahtera app, just a few days early of the minimum six months’ eligibility for booster jabs for Pfizer vaccine recipients, after her second dose on May 17.
“I asked, ‘what’s this about, turning participants away?’. They said, it cannot be below six months,” the government doctor told CodeBlue on condition of anonymity, as civil servants are prohibited from speaking to the press without approval from their superiors.
“I’m not sure what the cut-off date was. They didn’t say, when it reaches six months, whether my mother can walk in; they didn’t give alternative solutions to make arrangements. Nothing was provided. All the PPV said was — go back home.”
He pointed out that there is no option on MySejahtera to state that one was turned away from a PPV, and that not receiving a jab despite an appointment would be recorded as a “no-show”.
The doctor said he eventually managed to persuade the PPV staff to vaccinate his mother last Saturday itself. According to the doctor, his mother related another account of her old classmate in his 70s who was also initially turned away from the CEWC PPV yesterday — also because his booster appointment was scheduled less than six months from his second vaccine dose.
But the CEWC vaccination centre relented and gave the elderly man his booster shot after he argued for it. The man’s brother, who had received his second dose the same day as him, received his third Covid-19 jab at a different PPV without issues.
The doctor pointed out that he himself received a Covid-19 booster jab a few weeks ago, even though his appointment was about a week short of the minimum six months. Most health care workers were fully vaccinated with Pfizer and are currently prioritised for a third shot with the same vaccine.
“Most of us health care workers received our boosters within less than the six-month period,” he claimed. “I have a friend who got a booster five months from the second jab.”
He added that his counterparts in other divisions in Sarawak had told him PPVs in their areas did not turn away people for Covid-19 booster vaccinations, even if their appointments fell short, by up to one month, of the minimum period for eligibility.
“They said no such thing. As long as you get a MySejahtera appointment, you’re supposed to get a booster shot.”
The National Pharmaceutical Regulatory Agency (NPRA) has authorised a single booster shot with Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine for certain groups who were fully vaccinated with the same mRNA vaccine, at least six months after their second dose, and as part of heterologous vaccination for Sinovac recipients at least three months after their second shot.
Health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah announced last Friday that priority for Covid-19 boosters would be expanded from senior citizens aged 60 and older, residents and workers at long-term care facilities, and health care workers to all those aged 40 and above, adults aged 18 and older with comorbidities, pregnant women, and frontline workers from non-health sectors.
Dr Mahesh Appannan, head of data at the Ministry of Health’s Crisis Preparedness and Response Centre (CPRC), said there are three methods for giving Covid-19 vaccination appointments and that MySejahtera is merely a tool for appointment notification.
The first method is an automated system based on an algorithm that offers appointments to people based on calculations of eligible dates and risk factors, among others. Appointments can also be given by the state health department or district health office.
The third method is walk-ins. Walk-ins are currently not offered for boosters, Dr Mahesh said, but certain PPVs may have back-up lists to replace no-shows. The back-up list of vaccine recipients must also follow criteria set by the federal MOH.
“In the Sarawak case, I’m not sure why the person was denied. We need to investigate further,” Dr Mahesh told CodeBlue when contacted.
Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said last November 10 that around 40 per cent of people who received appointments for Covid-19 booster vaccination were not turning up for their jabs.
The anonymous doctor questioned if PPVs turning away people for their booster shots were a contributing factor to the high proportion of no-shows, saying: “I find it quite concerning.”