KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia kicked off the second phase of its Covid-19 vaccination programme on Monday (April 19), 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 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 said on Monday that Malaysia was 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 achieve this target.
Mr Khairy said the pace of inoculations is driven more by the 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," Mr Khairy said during his weekly briefing on Monday, 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 kicking off the vaccination drive, with the highest capacity recorded so far being 40,000 doses in a day.
But it aims to inoculate almost 27 million of its 33 million population by the end of 2021, and Mr Khairy said daily vaccination rates in June - when more vaccines start to arrive - will have to quadruple current efforts.
The country has started opening 30 vaccination centres at non-health facilities such as public halls and stadiums. Private hospitals and clinics will also play a role as the country starts the third phase of vaccination next month, which targets the general population.
Malaysia is also facing concerns over the pace of registrations for vaccination. Close to nine million people have registered 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.
On Saturday, the health authorities revealed that 40 healthcare workers had contracted Covid-19 after getting both doses of the vaccine. 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 added. "This shows that the vaccine works."
Mr Khairy had earlier said the government might review its vaccination policy if registrations remained low in July - when the supply of vaccines was expected to gradually begin exceeding demand.
Malaysia recorded 2,078 new daily infections of Covid-19 on Monday, the fifth consecutive day of cases exceeding the 2,000 mark.
Sarawak, one of the worst-hit states this month, once again recorded the highest number, with 589 cases.
The country's coronavirus infection rate appeared to be on the wane in late March, with new cases plunging to an all-year low of 941 transmissions on March 29. But there was an uptick at the beginning of the fasting month, as concerns grew over compliance with Covid-19 protocols at Ramadan food bazaars.
Inter-state travel remains banned in the country, although local economies have been mostly allowed to reopen.