Health experts say those who are fully vaccinated against Covid-19 will still need to follow SOPs such as wearing face masks and maintaining a minimum safe distance from others despite a US health agency suggesting that such measures can be relaxed for those who have completed their immunisation regime.
Speaking to MalaysiaNow, they said health SOPs would likely remain in place at least until the country achieves herd immunity – a goal the government hopes to attain once it has inoculated 80% of the population by February 2022.
Dr Kuljit Singh, president of the Association of Private Hospitals of Malaysia, said it was still too early to consider relaxing SOPs as only frontliners have been vaccinated so far under the National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme or PICK.
He said any recommendations to ease up on health measures should only be discussed once a more sizeable percentage of the population has been vaccinated.
According to Khairy Jamaluddin, the minister in charge of PICK, about 90% of the 500,000 frontliners listed in Phase One of PICK had received their first jab as of this week.
Speaking on Monday, he said frontliners on the Covid-19 Immunisation Task Force targeted list should complete their vaccination by mid-April, with Phase Two for senior citizens and those in the high-risk category slated to begin on April 19.
The government is aiming to inoculate nine million people in the second phase. As of Sunday, about two million from the target groups had registered for vaccination through the MySejahtera app.
“Relaxing SOPs is something that can be considered once Malaysia achieves herd immunity.”
Earlier this month, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said people who have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19 would be allowed to gather indoors without wearing masks.
It also said those who are fully vaccinated could visit with unvaccinated people from one other household indoors without masks or social distancing as long as the unvaccinated people are not at high risk for severe Covid-19.
The CDC added that fully-vaccinated people who come into contact with someone who has Covid-19 would not need to take a test or quarantine unless they show symptoms of the virus, unless they live in a congregate setting like a nursing home or correctional facility.
Kuljit however told MalaysiaNow that the acceptability of such rules would vary from country to country.
“The dynamics for each population and each country may differ,” he said. “It depends on the country and the number of people who have been vaccinated.
“Looking at Malaysia, we are still very far from that.”
As of March 28, a total of 129,110 people had received both doses of Covid-19 vaccine while 451,655 had received the first dose.
Kuljit said the type of vaccine given should also be taken into consideration as some have recorded a higher efficacy rate than others.
“We are not very sure yet how effective the vaccines will be in the population. Relaxing SOPs is something that can be considered once Malaysia achieves herd immunity,” he said, adding that even this might depend on how the virus reacts to the vaccines.
Dr Subramaniam Muniandy, president of the Malaysian Medical Association, said real-world data appears to show that the risk of contracting and transmitting the disease is greatly reduced for those who have been fully vaccinated.
He agreed in principle with the CDC’s suggestion that fully-vaccinated people should be allowed to do away with face masks.
He said the problem for Malaysia lies in its local circumstances.
“At present, very few people have been vaccinated,” he said. In order not to cause uneasiness or anxiety, he added, vaccinated people should continue following the SOPs until at least the end of the year.
He also suggested that the government begin relaxing travel restrictions and quarantine requirements for fully-vaccinated people in order to encourage more to come forward for the jabs.