How Prepared Is Malaysia For Omicron? — Dr Musa Mohd Nordin

We need to ramp up booster vaccination by facilitating the availability and accessibility of booster shots, preferably with mRNA vaccines.

The US and Europe are seeing record numbers of Covid-19 patients, mostly due to the Omicron variant. Unlike the earlier waves, the patients this time are somewhat less sick, suggesting that the Omicron variant is very contagious, but milder in causing disease severity.

The ones getting sicker, experiencing shortness of breath, requiring oxygen, and who may require hospital admissions, are the ones who are unvaccinated or who have an underlying illness like a non-communicable disease (NCD). For example, a diabetic patient may slip into ketoacidosis, a serious condition requiring hospital care.

The number of people infected by Omicron may require visits to the emergency room (ER) and require hospitalisations. In fact, the United States and Europe are experiencing higher numbers than the peak which occurred during the winter of 2020. Looking on the bright side, hopefully this might herald a transition towards the endemic phase of the coronavirus.

Malaysia must brace for this possible eventuality. Unlike what has gone before, we now have good vaccines, and they are our best option to keep people out of the hospitals and not overwhelm the health care services like happened previously.

The unvaccinated make up the majority of the sickest Covid patients requiring oxygen and respiratory care in the intensive care units (ICUs). The others are those who are only partially vaccinated and un-boosted patients. Studies in the UK have shown that boosting with mRNA vaccines prevents 88 per cent of Omicron hospitalisations.

At this point in time, only 28 per cent of the total population has taken their boosters. We need to ramp this up by facilitating the availability and accessibility of booster shots, preferably with mRNA vaccines.

Omicron has also taken a toll on health care providers (HCPs), with many of them getting sick. It is important that our HCPs are all boosted with mRNA vaccines to ensure that we are not short-staffed when Omicron really hits us.

All updated contingency protocols are in place in anticipation of a deluge of patients. We have learnt our lessons from the failures of managing the third wave. 

The authorities must take heed of the feedback from the Greater Klang Valley Special Task Force (GKVSTF) towards an inclusive, coordinated multi-agency/sectorial engagements within the context of an end-to-end automated pandemic management system.

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