By Research Analyst at EMIR Research, Amanda Yeo.
Although both online and offline vaccine registrations were introduced last week, low public registration for the National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme (NIP) raises concern that Malaysia might not achieve herd immunity anytime sooner.
According to the Minister of Science, Technology, and Innovation (MOSTI) Khairy Jamaluddin, only 6.1 percent of the population (1,468,137 individuals) had registered vaccination via the MySejahtera mobile application as of 11 am on March 1. It is far from the country’s desired target – inoculate more than 80 percent of the population (nearly 27 million out of 32 million Malaysians) against Covid-19 by March 2022.
Up to date, there are five methods for Malaysian citizens to register for vaccination.
According to the NIP Handbook published by the Covid-19 Vaccine Supply Access Guarantee Special Committee (JKJAV), the public could either register their interest to be vaccinated online through MySejahtera mobile application or the website specifically on vaccination at www.vaksincovid.gov.my.
In terms of offline vaccine registration, there are three methods for the public to choose – contact a hotline set up for the purpose of registration from today (March 5) onwards; visit the public and private health clinics; and through outreach programmes for the residents in rural and remote areas.
The recent establishment of JKJAV and Covid-19 Immunisation Task Force (CITF) is indeed a good start for Malaysia to kickstart immunisation. However, to ensure its successful implementation and conclusion the whole of government and the whole of society approach is required that goes beyond the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MOSTI), Ministry of Health Malaysia (MOH) and the National Security Council (NSC).
This would involve a host of different stakeholders such as non-governmental bodies, schools, universities and healthcare providers, speeding up the immunisation processes.
To ensure every resident is vaccinated, Village Community Development Council (MPKK), Community Development Officer (PPM) and resident committee need to play a proactive role in monitoring the vaccine coverage in their respective communities.
Even though government bodies and media outlets curated some online infographics, individuals who have limited digital devices or data connectivity might not understand how immunisation works and the advantages of vaccination.
Therefore, to ensure effective outreach programmes for residents in rural and remote areas, government agencies and non-governmental bodies perhaps could prepare the steps and potential side effects of immunisation in the form of leaflets in addition to information disseminated through newspapers and magazines. They could explain the importance of vaccination while distributing leaflets through house-to-house visits.
Although the registration for dependents, including elderly parents or individuals without smartphones, are expected to be made available via the MySejahtera mobile application in the middle of this month, children who are not staying with their elderly parents might not be able to assist in vaccine registration.
Due to the continuous enforcement of inter-state travel ban, Sabahans or Sarawakians currently working or living in Peninsular Malaysia could not fly back to their hometown immediately as they wished. They had to undergo swap tests and apply for travel permits before reuniting with their elderly parents.
To ensure everyone is vaccinated, government agencies and non-governmental bodies perhaps could assist the elderly in registering vaccination via MySejahtera mobile application while explaining the procedures and possible side effects of vaccinations during house-to-house visits. They also could help individuals who do not have Internet access or digital gadgets to register for vaccination.
In addition, MOH perhaps could modify the U.S. approach – mobilising a large number of vaccine corps to volunteer in the vaccination programme.
Asides from the medical, nursing, pharmacy and other health students, vaccine corps could be formed by community grassroots, retired or unemployed clinicians. They could deliver vaccine shots, monitoring individuals who were just vaccinated or scheduling the second doses for the vaccines to be fully effective.
Students in the vaccine corps could be trained to administer vaccines in low-cost housing flats, homeless and domestic violence shelters. They should also be provided transportation to vaccination sites or take doses directly to homebound elders who have difficulty to travel from one place to another.
By mobilising vaccine corps on a large scale, MOH could accelerate the nationwide rollout of Covid-19 vaccines besides ensuring doses are distributed equitably to every Malaysian citizen.
To speed up the immunisation processes, the government could also consider Indonesia’s approach – collaborating with the private sector such as Grab and set up drive-through vaccination services across Malaysia.
Furthermore, it is time for both federal and state governments to work closely together in providing mobile clinics for the convenience of rural and remote residents in getting vaccinated.
Although the NIP has outlined the usage of mobile vaccination clinics, the majority of sites are concentrated in urban areas along the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia, as mentioned by Ezzaty Hasbullah on “Malaysia’s National Covid-19 Immunisation Plan: The missing details” (Malay Mail, Feb 17, 2021).
For addressing the issue of insufficient vaccination centres in some parts of East Malaysia, both the Sabah and Sarawak state governments should consider providing flying doctors services in the remote areas of both states. It would shorten the delivery time of vaccines and allow the rural citizens in both states to be inoculated sooner.
As suggested by R. Murali Rajaratenam on “Enhancing trust in the vaccine” (The Star, Feb 26, 2021), each Malaysian state perhaps could establish a public oversight committee to review and report on Covid-19 vaccination systems. Thereby, target groups and underserved populations could receive vaccination from major medical and public health providers according to schedule.
By incorporating multiple immunisation strategies through public oversight, strong partnerships and community involvement in immunisation, the Malaysian government would be capable of implementing a successful vaccination drive – building greater public confidence in vaccination.