Malaysia will offer free coronavirus vaccinations to millions of its foreign workers under the National Immunisation Programme, as it seeks to control clusters that have emerged in factories, plantations and construction sites.
Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation and Coordinating Minister for Covid-19 Immunisation Khairy Jamaluddin said this free vaccination drive will include diplomats, expatriates, students, foreign spouses and their children, and foreign workers, as well as United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees card holders.
"In principle, the Cabinet has also agreed to provide the vaccines free for undocumented foreigners... We will be reaching out to state governments, foreign embassies, NGOs (non-governmental organisations) to assist," he added.
In a statement yesterday, the Covid-19 vaccine supply access guarantee committee said the move to vaccinate the group is deemed necessary in order to achieve herd immunity.
"The decision to give (free vaccinations to foreigners) is due to Malaysia's adequate supply of vaccines, which is more than the number of Malaysians who are eligible to receive it," the statement said.
"Foreigners have become a part of the community and contribute to the nation's economy. However, priority will be given to Malaysians," it said, adding that the nation was inspired by other countries that have included non-citizens, including Malaysian nationals, in their vaccination programmes.
The number of patients in clusters involving foreign workers in the agriculture, construction and manufacturing industries, as well as the high cost of treating and quarantining Covid-19 patients, was also a factor in the decision.
Details on the vaccination schedule for foreigners will be announced later.
Workplace clusters are a key source of Covid-19 infections in Malaysia, making up nearly two-thirds of new clusters between Jan 6 and 22.
The coronavirus has killed 923 and infected 251,604 people in Malaysia since January last year.
Malaysia is expected to receive its first batch of Covid-19 vaccines on Feb 26, after securing supply for 40 per cent of its population through agreements with the Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access facility and pharmaceutical firms Pfizer and AstraZeneca.
The country will have enough vaccines to inoculate almost 83 per cent of the population, if agreements with China-based pharmaceutical companies Sinovac and CanSino, as well as Russia's Gamaleya, are finalised.
Malaysia will run its first phase of vaccinations from the end of this month to April. This will see 500,000 health and non-health front-liners getting their immunisation shots.
High-risk groups for Covid-19 will receive their jabs during the second phase from April to August, while the third phase will see adults being vaccinated from May to February next year.