Sarawak turns down AstraZeneca vaccine, cites 3-months dosage gap, ineffectiveness against variants as reasons

File photo depicting vials containing the AstraZeneca vaccine. Photo source: Flickr, Creative Commons license

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By Karen Bong

KUCHING, April 29: The three-month gap for the two doses of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine and its ineffectiveness against the South African variant, apart from growing public concerns over its side effects, are among the reasons why Sarawak has turned down this vaccine for use under the National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme (NIP) in the State.

A reliable source explained to DayakDaily that the interval of 12 weeks in delivering the two doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is too long to meet Sarawak’s target of vaccinating 2.2 million Sarawakians and non-Sarawakians by August this year.

Furthermore, the source emphasised that medical reports have shown that this vaccine is ineffective against the South African variant (B1351) already present in Malaysia, with only a five per cent efficacy against such infections.

The source also reminded that the first dose of any two-dose vaccine will not deliver the intended protection to the recipients against the risk of Covid-19 as the percentage of protection increased with the completion of the doses is required.

More importantly, the source pointed out that the side effects of this vaccine, especially the chance that it may cause rare but potentially fatal blood clots, would lead to low public confidence in the perceived safety of the AstraZeneca vaccines and subsequently lead to vaccination rejection and hesitancy.

Even though developing blood clots is an extremely rare condition, it says consideration must be given to the fact it carries the risk of death or a severe outcome.

As reported in the global news, several countries including some in the European Union (EU) have suspended, restricted or rejected the AstraZeneca vaccine as people have refused to take the vaccines, leaving millions of doses and supplies sitting unused despite data assuring that this vaccine is safe with a 70 per cent efficacy rate.

But the changing guidelines on who should receive the AstraZeneca vaccine also became a major issue as regulators have to make decisions with extra caution by calculating the risk versus benefit for different age groups.

The latest twist in the decision was to recommend it to “those aged 60 years and older including those with medical conditions with very high or high risk of severe Covid-19 disease”.

Previously, it has been limited to younger people but that guideline has changed after factoring in blood clot risk due to individual lifestyle habits including smoking, use of contraceptives and other hormone drugs.

Meanwhile, Minister for Local Government and Housing Datuk Seri Dr Sim Kui Hian has pointed out in his Facebook post last night (April 28) that Sarawak said no to the AstraZeneca vaccine under the NIP in the State.

“Those who would like to have the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccines may have to walk into any of the vaccination centres in Selangor and Kuala Lumpur,” he added.

Dr Sim, who is also the State Disaster Management Committee (SDMC) advisor, was responding to National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme (NIP) Coordinating Minister Khairy Jamaluddin who had offered Sarawak to consider the use of the controversial AstraZeneca vaccine to boost Sarawak’s Covid-19 vaccination drive given the urgency due to the State’s vaccination timeline and concerns over a looming State Election.

Khairy had announced yesterday that Malaysia will continue to use the AstraZeneca vaccine but it will not be included in the NIP following growing public concerns that linked the vaccine to rare blood clot cases.

The vaccine, he said, would instead be given through dedicated vaccination centres on a first-come-first-serve basis to those who volunteer and consented to take the vaccines.

A total of 268,600 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine will be pushed out for Selangor and Kuala Lumpur first considering that the cases in these two areas are still very high.

He added that a separate registration system will be created to allow people 18 years and above to register their interests to take the vaccine only at dedicated vaccination centres.

Individuals will also have to go through a pre-screening at the centres to ensure they are eligible to take the vaccine.

Meanwhile, DayakDaily is currently conducting a poll to hear the views of Sarawakians on their confidence regarding the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccines and whether people are willing to take the vaccine.

Join the poll on our DayakDaily Facebook page by clicking on our page Story icon on our profile picture or visit this link to place your vote now:

— DayakDaily