Expedite Children Vaccination, National Testing Plan And Booster Dose In View Of Delta Surge

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Media Statement by YB Kelvin Yii:

The Ministry of Health (MOH) and Sarawak Disaster Management Committee (SDMC) must urgently expedite the current Covid-19 vaccination of our adolescent children to protect them quicker in view of the current surge of Delta cases in Sarawak.

There has to be some form of “ops surge capacity” when it comes to vaccinating our children as the spill over of the current surge of cases may affect them, potentially causing the next Delta wave to be among our children that are yet to be vaccinated.

Even though in Sarawak we have high vaccine adult coverage, but the total population coverage is only about 64%. Even though the rate of severe symptoms and hospitalisation among the Covid-19 cases in Sarawak is not so high, but with high infections and the infectiousness of the Delta variant, it leaves our children and those yet to be vaccinated vulnerable and exposed to the devastating effects of Delta.

That is while I am glad that vaccination among adolescent has started in Sarawak, this has to be expedited even more to make sure more children get the needed protection as fast as possible. This will require constant high shipment of vaccine into Sarawak in view of high Delta infections and de-centralisation of PPVs for children to the different schools all around Sarawak.

For convenience and to avoid congestion in specific PPVs, children should be allowed to be vaccinated in their own schools or such special PPVs should be open in as many schools as possible. This makes it easier to track those children that are getting the vaccines based on school records including capturing those that have drop-out from school.

If we can vaccinate all 12-17 years old as fast as this month, we then can have a total population coverage of 83.4% as soon as possible then further plan to vaccinate those below 12 based on available data especially in view of re-opening of schools. We have seen in countries of high vaccine coverage such as Norway, the UK experience increase of cases among children the moment schools reopened.

On top of that, I reiterate my call for MOH and SDMC to be transparent with their plans and strategy with Covid-19 in Sarawak. Merely talking about “living with Covid-19” is somewhat premature and does not instil confidence to public when cases are still so high.

Sarawak’s weekly Covid-19 infections saw an increase of almost 300% or increased 3 fold the past weeks — from 7,423 cases in the week of August 12-18 to 21,940 cases from September 2 until 8. There are a significant increase the past few days that will further increase this weeks count.

At the same time, Covid-19 fatalities in Sarawak also saw a sharp 200 per cent increase in the same period of time — from 20 deaths to 60.

It is to be noted that more than 50 per cent of 27 people in Sarawak dying from Covid-19, whose deaths were reported September 5 to 6, had been fully vaccinated.

That is why, previously I have caution SDMC and MOH from shifting into full endemic-style (living with Covid-19) strategy in Sarawak pre-maturely without first addressing some of the fundamental public health measures.

This includes the importance to invest into our public health system to continue the required Find, Test, Trace, Isolate and Support(FTTIS), by coming up with a comprehensive National Testing Plan which includes frequent testing at workplace, factories, schools, and all social events. This is more comprehensive and holistic rather than the plan to just test symptomatic and stop testing the asymptomatic.

And more importantly, there has to be a clear policy on a booster shot especially for front liners and high-risk groups especially in view of the waning effectiveness of the vaccines over time, which we have seen in other countries. In Sarawak, about 77.7 per cent of fully vaccinated people in Sarawak had received Sinovac, followed by Pfizer-BioNTech (18.7 per cent) and AstraZeneca-Oxford (2.4 per cent).

We compare this with Labuan which has relatively recovered after having one of the the highest prevalence of cases per population due to an outbreak of Delta before this. Based on data provided, the population is vaccinated with about 89% Pfeizer.

A recent study in Thailand that showed Sinovac’s efficacy against Delta dropped to 48.33 per cent six months after the second dose. A real-world study in the UK showed that protection from Pfizer declined to 74 per cent after five to six months and for AstraZeneca, protection dropped to 67 per cent after four to five months.

That is why I hope the government will ensure all these steps are in place including my previous recommendations before making the shift purely to full endemic-style strategy.

If we, do it too soon, without preparing other fundamentals, i am concern it can still trigger a new wave especially among our high-risk groups and those yet to be vaccinated including children and overwhelm the hospitals and even ICU capacity.

Kelvin Yii Lee Wuen
MP Bandar Kuching