On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Synergised solution

THE announcement that private hospitals in Kuala Lumpur and Penang are set to become Covid-19 vaccination centres is a step in the right direction.

They would be able to supplement the government’s effort in rolling out the vaccination exercise faster.

Malaysia needs to meet the target of completing the vaccination of 27 million people – more than 80% of the population – by March 2022, or if possible, by this December the earliest. The quicker Malaysians, especially front liners, get vaccinated, the easier it would be for us to get our economy back on track.

Reopening Malaysia’s borders again is crucial because otherwise, we’re at a standstill.

But let’s not get entangled in unproductive debates on the merits or demerits of getting private hospitals to be involved in supporting the government’s vaccination plan.

All over the world, it’s common to involve private hospitals in such exercises. Even places of worship and community centres are being used in Britain.

Last week, Indonesia authorised its private vaccination scheme to run alongside its national vaccination programme. The regulation stipulates that companies can buy vaccines and inoculate their staff and families at privately run health centres. However, the catch is that the supply must come from the state-owned pharmaceutical company Bio Farma.

It has also been reported that Thailand and India private hospitals have ordered their own vaccine supplies with plans to carry out their own vaccination.

Our government has identified 600 vaccination sites, according to Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Khairy Jamaluddin, comprising Health Ministry hospitals and public health clinics, university hospitals, Malaysian Armed Forces hospitals and clinics, private general practitioner (GP) clinics, and private health care facilities.

The programme involves immunising 75,000 people a day across these 600 vaccination sites nationwide from March, which is equivalent to 12,500 people per hour in a six-hour day, or five people simultaneously getting their jabs at each vaccination site, based on a target of 15 minutes per person.

Khairy said the daily goal of 75,000 jabs is the government’s first target. The next target, depending on supply, is to administer 150,000 shots a day for the second dose.

Practitioner Dr Kuljit Singh has aptly described the participation of private hospitals as an “excellent public-private partnership, which will increase vaccination numbers in the subsequent weeks, in order to complete the first phase by the end of this month.”

“All frontliners who received their first dose of the Pfizer-BioNtech had their listing determined by the KL health department, and the vaccinators were the staff of the different private hospitals within the state, ” he said. The key phrase here is listing determined by the authorities. But we should seriously consider allowing private hospitals to also conduct their own vaccination programmes because it will shorten the deadline.

There is no reason to discourage or stop private hospitals from procuring their own supply of vaccines, especially if they’re able to do so directly from the vaccine manufacturers. Naturally, these vaccines are the ones that have been approved by the National Pharmaceutical Regulatory Agency (NPRA), which is the country’s drug administration authority.

So far, only three vaccines have been given conditional registration, including Pfizer-BioNTech, AstraZeneca-Oxford University and China’s Sinovac. The Malaysian government has procured 12 million doses of Sinovac, of which 300,000 doses have already arrived.

Khairy also said Malaysia may look at procuring the single-dose CanSino Covid-19 vaccine from China. He said the CanSino option looks better than Johnson & Johnson’s (J&J) because the US pharmaceutical company can only ship its supply in the fourth quarter of this year (4Q21).

“Therefore, we will speed up negotiations with CanSino, so that we can get a single-dose vaccine in our portfolio, ” he said.

According to media reports, China has launched another single-dose Covid-19 vaccine, Ad5-nCoV, which is an adenoviral vector vaccine developed as a collaboration between Chinese biotechnology company CanSino Biologics and a group of researchers.

Khairy said Malaysia might also decide not to proceed with its order from Johnson & Johnson, adding that the matter will be finalised in a meeting on Thursday.

“Looks like we might have to drop it. They can only give two million doses at the end of the year and for us, it is too late, ” he said.

It’s heartening to hear from Khairy that Malaysia is expanding its choice of vaccines. While it’s important for the NPRA to ensure that these vaccines meet our standards and requirements, we should also not be delayed by red tape, especially with Chinese and Russian vaccines, since we have to cope with manufacturing delays from the United States and Britain.

Let’s not be handicapped by the belief that Western-made vaccines are superior to the ones from China and Russia.

The concern seems to be that Sinovac only has 50% efficacy, which may appear lower. However, experts have all said that it’s sufficient to make a difference in a global health emergency.

The effectiveness of the annual flu shot generally ranges between 40% and 60%.

So, it’s also important to understand the difference between vaccine efficacy and effectiveness.

Adrian Esterman, the chair in biostatistics and epidemiology at the University of South Australia, told the ABC the difference was simple.

“Efficacy is how well the vaccine works in a clinical trial. Effectiveness asks: ‘How does it work out in the real population?’” he explained.

Discussion among the public is healthy, but we should encourage education so that Malaysians get the right information and share them correctly.

Likewise, there is the warped argument that if private hospitals secure their own vaccine supply, that will only benefit the rich and lead to a form of queue jumping.

On the contrary, this exercise will alleviate the government’s burden by sharing the responsibility and expediting the vaccination process.

This is not a class discourse about Marxism class conflict but achieving the vaccination goal in the minimum amount of time.

Government supplies shouldn’t be touched because their allocation has already been accounted for.

Private hospitals and clinics should appropriately be used to vaccinate the people for free, and these facilities shouldn’t be saddled with hidden costs either, like registration or administrative fees.

It won’t be easy for private hospitals to get their supply because there isn’t enough to go around since most negotiations are through the government, so something has to give.

Of course, frontliners from the medical, health, security and teaching sectors are the most important, so they should be prioritised.

But let’s not forget economic frontliners, such as those working in the logistics, transportation and supplies sectors, including cleaners, lorry and bus drivers, and even foreign factory workers.

Even food deliverers and journalists are on the streets every day because working from home isn’t possible for them, and their services are just as essential to us. Then, shouldn’t they be viewed as frontliners, too?

So, let’s get Malaysia immunised fast in every way possible by getting the public and private sectors to work together. After all, many hands make light work.