Recent opinions put forward by many on the subject of vaccination with regard to COVID-19 is both informative and thought provoking.
Our daily infection toll is still running at four figures. I am glad the government is partnering with more private hospitals to turn them into vaccination centres since our top priority must be to immunize our people as quickly as possible. It is imperative to open our borders to get our economy back on track.
At the moment, the government is rolling out the vaccines in three phases with the frontliners at the top of the queue. High risk groups will be next, and finally the rest of the general population aged 18 and above. While it’s commendable that the government is providing the vaccines free of cost to all citizens, I am of the opinion that the partnership with the private hospitals can be taken one step further allowing them to run a paid vaccination programme.
In fact, based on my conversations with well-known medical practitioner Dr. Kuljit Singh, I understand that private hospitals are willing to procure vaccines directly from the manufacturer. If private hospitals can offer the public a choice of the vaccine approved by the National Pharmaceutical Regulatory Agency (NPRA) , I think it can only complement the government’s efforts.
Of course, there will be an outcry about ‘vaccine shopping’ and those who can afford to pay ‘jumping the queue’. If our aim is to achieve herd immunity, for which at least 70% of the population should be vaccinated, and people are willing to pay to jump the queue, I think it will only benefit us as a country. It helps accelerate the vaccination drive and also help advance the current deadline of March 2022 to achieve 80% vaccination of the population while reducing the cost to the government. This can help Malaysia become a safe travel zone and enable travel bubbles with similar safe zone countries.
It is beneficial at every level for the private sector to help the vaccination process. In the United States, pharmacy chains such as CVS and Walgreens have been turned into vaccination centres all over the nation, easing the burden off hospitals and clinics. There is no reason why our own Malaysian pharmacy chains such as Caring or Watsons with a nationwide footprint cannot be equipped to become vaccine centres. Similarly, medical faculty from private universities can also be roped into the process to help create more vaccination centres. Our own university in Perak, the Quest International University (QIU) Medical faculty is ready to support the government in this endeavour.
We need to use every avenue available to us to achieve the greater good. Concerns, if any, in monitoring the private sector rollout can be easily dealt with by implementing a digital “vaccine passport” leveraging blockchain to prevent any errors or omissions.
We already have our very own ‘MySejahtera’ app. I am sure such a vaccine passport can be incorporated into the MySejahtera platform. A joint database can be set up between public and private hospitals to monitor the progress of the vaccination drive. There are many other ways in which the private sector can be of service to the government in accelerating the roll out of this vaccination programme.
Our government is undoubtedly doing its best to protect our people and their livelihood. A public-private vaccination initiative is a win-win for all.
Dato Sri Vijay Eswaran is Executive Chairman of QI Group