News | We’ve made it in journey to 80% vaccinated population

As of yesterday, 80% of the country’s adult population have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19. While the health ministry has since dropped the use of the term “herd immunity” in favour of recognising the virus as endemic, the figure has long been touted as a milestone for the National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme.

In light of the achievement, FMT looks back at some of the key moments in the programme.

On Nov 27 last year, then prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin announced the procurement of 12.8 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, making Malaysia the first country in Southeast Asia to secure a deal with the US drug maker.

It was a landmark in the battle against Covid-19. Finally, a counterpunch was delivered against a virus that had pinned the country to the ropes for the better part of eight months.

Less than a month later, Malaysia put pen to paper on a deal with UK-based AstraZeneca to get 6.4 million doses of its vaccine, which like Pfizer’s had shown promising early results in clinical trials.

These were just the first of a host of deals, which eventually saw the country secure enough doses for the entire population and then some.

On Feb 24, Muhyiddin became the first person in the country to get vaccinated against Covid-19. He took his first jab live on TV in a bid to boost the public’s confidence in the safety of vaccines.

Thus began Phase One of the National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme, which saw frontliners like healthcare workers, policemen, army personnel and politicians vaccinated first.

By early March, more than 80,000 Malaysians had received their first dose and more than a million others had registered for vaccination through the MySejahtera mobile application.

The early months of the rollout were slow going, however. By mid-May, just 3% of the population had received a shot although nearly a third of the population had signed up.

Vaccine minister Khairy Jamaluddin attributed these early troubles to supply issues, saying at the time that pharmaceutical companies had prioritised rich countries at the expense of others.

“It’s like a scene from the Titanic, where the guys from the lower class are waiting for the lifeboats and the guys from the upper cabin have already gone onto them,” he said.

So desperate were people to get their jabs that when AstraZeneca shots were offered on a first-come-first basis after some fears emerged in Europe over blood clots as a potential side effect, all 268,000 doses were claimed within three hours in the Klang Valley alone.

Vax, lies and videotape

Aside from the initial slowness, the vaccine rollout was also plagued by misinformation and distrust, which had Khairy putting out fires across the country.

First, there were fake vaccines that popped up on e-commerce sites, which prompted the government to warn the public against them as it would provide vaccines for free and could guarantee their authenticity.

In May, with vaccinations in Penang going slow, chief minister Chow Kon Yeow and DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng held a press conference to accuse the federal government of blocking a donation of two million Sinovac doses to the state by a certain Yong Chee Kong, who claimed to represent Hong Kong based Xintai Development Enterprise.

Days later, Khairy came out and called the offer a “scam” and “bogus,” saying the government could not verify the identity of Yong or find evidence that the company he claimed to represent was real. He said he would be happy to expedite the process if the donation was authentic.

In July, fears around phantom jabs began to spread after a video went viral of a nurse in Kedah administering an empty injection to a patient. Khairy then encouraged recipients to videotape their vaccination if they were worried the same could happen to them. But he also called the taped incident a one-off affair.

From June onwards, however, with supply issues mostly out of the way and deliveries of vaccines flowing, Malaysia’s vaccination rate had begun its gradual climb to becoming amongst the world’s best.

By July, Malaysia was vaccinating people at the fourth highest rate in the world, with 7.3% of the population immunised in the second week of the month alone.

This peaked on July 28, when 579,774 doses were administered nationwide, with the country holding steady at more than 400,000 jabs a day for most of August.

This rate has lately fallen off slightly, but with the vast majority of the country vaccinated, there are still well over 200,000 doses given out on a daily basis.

No child left behind

Now, with 80% of the population fully vaccinated, the government has moved on to the next steps in the process: boosters and teens.

Khairy announced on Monday that he was aiming for 80% of teenagers to be vaccinated by March next year.

As for third shots, Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob announced on Sunday that they would be offered once the country had reached the 80% mark, beginning with high-risk groups like medical frontliners and elderly people living with comorbidities. – FMT

by Imran Ariff

credit photo: Patrick Goh/The Edge

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