By Dr Siti Sara Ibrahim
Vaccines remain one of the most effective and affordable tools in ensuring global health. The more severe impact of the new COVID-19 variants (from India, South Africa and the United Kingdom) and the surge of many new cases and deaths, as reported daily by the Ministry of Health (MOH), had opened the eyes of most Malaysians to get vaccinated.
Previously, many seemed to doubt the importance of getting vaccinated as well as the safety and effectiveness of the vaccines available. But when the second registration for the AstraZeneca Vaccine was opened for Malaysians under 60 residing in the Klang Valley, Penang, Johor and Sarawak on 26th May 2021, all the slots were taken in a mere one hour 15 minutes.
This proves that the importance of vaccines in curbing the COVID-19 pandemic is now well understood by the people. A total of 8.51 million individuals have already registered in the National COVID-19 Immunisation Programme (PICK), representing 35.10 per cent of the population. This figure is expected to increase to more than 80 per cent as the nation heads towards building herd immunity.
Therefore, the government has taken steps to expedite the provision of vaccines to all Malaysians through the provision of AstraZeneca Vaccine 2.0. In fact, the registration for this vaccine has reached 11,069,418 but, to date, only 1,731,231 have taken the shot. This figure excludes the dosage for the other COVID-19 vaccines made available under the PICK which was launched on 24th February and has reached more than one million individuals.
However, one question remains: Are the frontliners capable of supporting this programme? Previously, the National Security Council (MKN) had opened up opportunities for Malaysians who are interested in contributing and participating in the PICK through the Malaysia Vaccine Support Volunteers (MyVAC) initiative which is aimed at assisting the frontliners in vaccine distribution. Several NGOs have also participated in this programme including MERCY Malaysia which had been involved in the vaccine distribution programme, vaccination awareness drive, and swab test programme. There are various opportunities for every NGO to be engaged in the national vaccination programme.
Critical role of NGOs
Hence, NGOs in Malaysia are urged to make great strides in doing so as they play a critical role not only in prioritising and accelerating the development and introduction of new vaccines against diseases, but also in expediting the vaccination distribution programme. In fact, the Ministry of Health (MOH) has recently urged for the involvement of HEALTH VOLUNTEERS to assist the MOH in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly via the vaccination programme. There is a critical need for volunteers towards easing the increasing burden faced by frontliners nationwide.
But to effectively participate in this process, the NGOs must have deep understanding and expertise to support the immunisation programme. This is in line with the health volunteer programme for COVID-19 as a whole. NGOs offering help in areas affected by COVID-19 must undergo basic training with the MOH. The health director-general, Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah, had also advised NGOs to seek basic training from the ministry especially in matters concerning infection control and coordination. This is to prevent the further spread of COVID-19 as there had been clusters that were spurred by NGO activities.
Dr Siti Sara Ibrahim is Senior Lecturer & Deputy Rector of Research, Industrial Linkage, Community & Alumni, UiTM Negeri Sembilan.