Malaysia kicked off the second phase of its Covid-19 vaccination programme yesterday, as government leaders tried to allay concerns about the pace of inoculations.
The programme is seen as not being fast enough, with coronavirus infections showing signs of surging again.
Malaysia has now begun inoculations for more than three million registered senior citizens and people with disabilities and comorbidities, a significantly larger group than the nearly 650,000 front-line individuals it had targeted under the first phase of the programme since late February.
Coordinating Minister for Immunisation Khairy Jamaluddin yesterday said Malaysia is still "on schedule" to achieve its herd immunity target by the end of the year - even though it needs to increase its daily vaccination rate at least fourfold in just over a month's time to reach this goal.
Mr Khairy said the pace of inoculations is driven more by availability and arrival of vaccines, and not Malaysia's logistical preparedness to ramp up the programme.
"We have so far received 1.5 million doses of vaccine, and we have administered 1.1 million of those doses," he said during his weekly briefing yesterday, while acknowledging concerns over the pace of the programme.
"I understand the anxiety of those who have registered, but we have a schedule and we are following the schedule. We opened registration for everyone, but that still means they have to wait their turn."
Malaysia has so far averaged 21,200 doses administered per day since starting the vaccination drive, with the highest recorded so far being 40,000 doses given in a day.
However, it aims to inoculate almost 27 million of its 33 million population by the end of this year.
Mr Khairy said that daily vaccination rates in June - when more vaccines start to arrive - will have to quadruple current efforts.
The country has begun opening 30 vaccination centres at non-health facilities such as public halls and stadiums.
27m Number of people that Malaysia aims to vaccinate by the end of this year.
21,200 Average number of doses administered per day since the vaccination drive began.
Private hospitals and clinics will also play a role as the country begins the third phase of vaccination next month targeting the general population.
Malaysia is also facing concerns over the pace of registration for vaccination.
Close to nine million people have registered for the vaccines so far, just over one-third of the herd immunity target.
Similarly, only one-third of the 9.4 million people targeted under the second phase have registered so far, prompting the authorities to proceed with vaccinations for more of those who have registered to possibly expedite the third phase.
Last Saturday, the health authorities revealed that 40 healthcare workers had contracted Covid-19 after getting both doses of the vaccination.
But Mr Khairy said only nine of them had contracted Covid-19 two weeks or more after the second dose. None of them was hospitalised for any severe symptoms, he said. "This shows that the vaccine works."
Mr Khairy had said earlier that the government might review its vaccination policy if registrations remain low in July - when the supply of vaccines is expected to gradually begin exceeding demand.
Malaysia recorded 2,078 new infections of Covid-19 yesterday, the fifth consecutive day of daily cases exceeding the 2,000 mark.
Sarawak, one of the worst-hit states this month, once again recorded the highest number, with 589 cases.