Jab schedule advanced due to low take-up rate

Just over a month into Malaysia's vaccination drive against Covid-19, the government is changing its inoculation timetable owing to low registration numbers.

The country will bring forward the implementation of the third phase of vaccination - meant for the general population - to the end of this month, and will consider a policy change if the sign-up rate does not improve in the next two months.

The acceleration comes after only one-third of Malaysia's senior citizens - designated as a high-risk group - have signed up for the jab under the second phase that starts in the middle of this month.

As at Sunday, less than a quarter of Malaysia's 33 million people had signed up for vaccination, and most states - except the administrative capital Putrajaya - have seen a sign-up rate of below 50 per cent.

Malaysia's Coordinating Minister for Immunisation Khairy Jamaluddin said on Monday that the government might relook its vaccination policy should the situation show little improvement in July. The country is scheduled to receive the bulk of its vaccine supply that month.

The government currently encourages voluntary registration for the shots, but Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin has acknowledged that the sign-up rates are "small". Malaysia aims to achieve herd immunity by the end of this year, at the earliest, by inoculating 80 per cent of its population, or 26.7 million people.

Tan Sri Muhyiddin last week mooted allowing fully vaccinated individuals to cross state lines in Malaysia and to travel abroad, to incentivise people to get vaccinated. Health Minister Adham Baba said on Monday that Mr Muhyiddin's suggestion is still being studied by the health authorities.

Mr Khairy has also said that the government will consider announcing certain incentives for fully vaccinated individuals to spur the vaccination drive. The authorities last week also announced tie-ups with several private firms to increase vaccine awareness and outreach in Malaysia, and drive up registration.

Malaysia launched its Covid-19 immunisation plan on Feb 24. The government is currently finishing the first phase of inoculation that is targeted at front-liners. About 850,000 people have received at least one dose of the vaccine. The country will start the second phase on April 19, targeting the 2.3 million senior citizens and high-risk individuals who have registered so far.

After the second phase, the country will start vaccinating the rest of the population, including undocumented migrants, in its bid to achieve herd immunity.

It was initially targeting the bulk of the 9.4 million senior citizen population for second-phase inoculation - originally scheduled from this month to August - and third-phase inoculation was to kick off next month.

Malaysia has secured enough vaccines to cover its entire population. About half of the population will receive the Pfizer-BioNTech shot.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 08, 2021, with the headline 'Jab schedule advanced due to low take-up rate'. Subscribe