KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 21 – The only vaccine available in Malaysia’s Covid-19 vaccination programme is Sinovac’s vaccine that targets the original strain of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad said.
According to an advisory announcing the National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme (PICK) yesterday, amid a surging epidemic in the country and region, the only shots available are up to the second booster, or fourth dose.
There is no option on the MySejahtera application for those who completed their second booster or fourth dose to book an appointment for an additional jab.
Despite waning vaccine effectiveness, Dzulkefly’s statement yesterday omitted recommendations for an additional Covid-19 booster dose, or fifth jab. Singapore, on the other hand, recommends an additional vaccine dose for all individuals aged six months and above about a year – and no earlier than five months – after their last shot.
“The current Covid-19 vaccines in this country are effective in protecting against severe complications from infection,” Dzulkefly said in his statement.
According to KKMNow’s website, most of those who took their second booster were about 18 months ago in July 2022 at over 200,000 people, or nearly a year ago in January 2023 at more than 150,000 people.
Only 2.5 per cent of Malaysia’s total population have taken their second Covid booster vaccine to date. Over half have taken their first booster; over 5.7 million people took this nearly two years ago in January 2022.
The Ministry of Health’s (MOH) own RECoVam study released in November 2021 showed that Sinovac’s inactivated virus Covid-19 vaccine was far less effective than Pfizer’s mRNA vaccine in preventing infection and intensive care unit (ICU) admission from Covid-19.
Sinovac’s vaccine – which is the only vaccine available now in PICK at 234 PPVs in public health clinics nationwide – targets the ancestral strain of the SARS-CoV-2 virus from nearly three years ago.
Other countries – such as Singapore, the United States, and even Hong Kong – have already rolled out updated monovalent XBB.1.5 mRNA vaccines by Pfizer and Moderna for 2023/ 2024 that target the Omicron variant, XBB.1.5. These vaccines also work against the EG.5 and BA.2.86 strains.
Malaysians residing in their home country who wish to get the new XBB.1.5 mRNA vaccine can book an appointment in Singapore and pay for their jab under Singapore’s private vaccination programme. Moderna’s XBB.1.5 vaccine is priced at SG$158 (RM553) per dose (inclusive of GST).
Health director-general Dr Muhammad Radzi Abu Hassan told a press conference last Monday that the government was still in the procurement process for the updated monovalent XBB.1.5 vaccines.
“That process will take time. In terms of supply, I think it’s rather difficult now,” he said.
“However, I feel that whatever we have now is still effective. The current vaccines we have can still protect against the currently circulating Covid-19 virus.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommended last December 13 the use of monovalent XBB.1.5 vaccines across different platforms against currently circulating variants.
Health DG Dr Muhammad Radzi previously said in a statement last December 13 that the circulating Omicron variants in Malaysia are XBB.1.16, XBB.1.5, and EG.5.
WHO Covid-19 technical lead Maria van Kerkhove posted on X Tuesday that “current vaccines, including those based on ancestral strain as well as the updated monovalent XBB vaccines continue to provide protection against severe disease and death, including against JN.1.”
The WHO has just classified JN.1 as a separate variant of interest from the parent lineage BA.2.86, due to its rapidly increasing spread.