Dr Annuar: Understanding first “herd immunity” before jumping to non-scientific conclusion

Dr Annuar Rapaee

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KUCHING, Sept 6: Local Government and Housing Assistant Minister Dr Annuar Rapaee calls on certain quarters alleging that the Sarawak government has failed in its effort to achieve herd immunity to first understand the definition of herd immunity and evolution of the Covid-19 especially its mutation which resulted in emergence of new variants.

Dr Annuar equated the allegation as making non-scientific conclusion.

“The concept of herd immunity should not be judged by the theoretical figure of 70 per cent and above, by not understanding the evolution of the virus which keeps on mutating, giving rise to new variants.

“The key to herd immunity is that those who have already been vaccinated or already had infection, cannot contract and spread the disease. However, from the world data we have now after the vaccination programme that the Covid-19 vaccines are extremely effective at preventing symptomatic disease but less from getting rid of disease transmission which what herd immunity is meant for.

“For that reason also, the government need to vaccinate more people now by including teenagers,” said Dr Annuar who is also Sibu Divisional Disaster Management Committee (SDDMC) coordinator.

As of Aug 31, 2021, 88.2 per cent or 1,821,499 out of the two million eligible for the Covid-19 vaccine in Sarawak have completed two doses. Dr Annuar said for Sibu Division, 95 per cent of the eligible recipients had received both doses.

He took the opportunity to point out that for the period from Aug 29 to Sept 4, the number of new Covid-19 cases in Sarawak stood at 17,428 cases, of which 99.77 per cent were in categories 1 and 2.

“During the same period, categories 1 and 2 for Sibu Division stood at 99.78 per cent, while categories 3, 4 and 5, which required hospitalisation, was only 0.22 per cent.

“This shows the success of State’s vaccination programme, where severe cases had been reduced. In fact, the high rate of vaccination in Sarawak is actually a good achievement compared to other states or even at national level. The national figure is better than that of the United States and most countries, although of slower momentum initially.

“This achievement not only reflects the number of those vaccinated but also those infected, where the severity of health implications had been greatly reduced,” said Dr Annuar in a statement.

He held that while the State has shown increase in the number of positive cases lately, this increase in number of cases in Sarawak should not overshadow the fact that the vaccines are helpful in decreasing the severity of disease and the need for hospitalisation.

Additionally, he observed that the global thinking has now shifted from the threshold of achieving herd immunity of 70 or 80 per cent, which was looking unlikely, because of factors such as vaccine hesitancy, the emergence of new variants and that children are yet to be vaccinated.

However, Dr Annuar was glad that Sarawak will be the first State in Malaysia to vaccinate 16 to 17 years old beginning Wednesday (Sept 8).

To support his argument, Dr Annuar quoted Stefan Flasche, a vaccine epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

“Given what is known about Covid-19 so far, reaching herd immunity through vaccines alone is going to be rather unlikely. It’s time for more realistic expectations.

“The vaccine is ‘an absolutely astonishing development’, but it’s unlikely to completely halt the spread, so we need to think of how we can live with the virus. This isn’t as grim as it might sound. Even without herd immunity, the ability to vaccinate vulnerable people seems to be reducing hospitalizations and deaths from Covid-19. The disease might not disappear any time soon, but its prominence is likely to wane.”

Apart from Flasche, the Nangka assemblyman also quoted Shweta Bansal, a mathematical biologist at Georgetown University in Washington DC.

“Herd immunity is only relevant if we have a transmission-blocking vaccine. If we don’t, then the only way to get herd immunity in the population is to give everyone the vaccine.”

At the same time, Dr Annuar quoted Dvir Aran, a biomedical data scientist at the Technion — Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa.

“At the current vaccination rates, Israel was closing in on the theoretical herd-immunity threshold. The problem is that, as more people are vaccinated, they will increase their interactions, and that changes the herd-immunity equation, which relies in part on how many people are being exposed to the virus.”

Based on the conclusions of these scientists, Dr Annuar said those making allegation that the Sarawak government has failed in its effort to achieve herd immunity, only showed their ignorance.

“Because of their ignorance, they make non-scientific conclusion. I would suggest for those who don’t understand herd immunity, evolution of this virus especially mutation resulting in new variants, they should read more before blaming the government for failing to contain the disease in term of achieving herd immunity,” said Dr Annuar. — DayakDaily