A public health expert has cautioned against a debate session between the government and those concerned about the possible side-effects of Covid-19 booster jabs, saying this might only complicate the situation even more as questions arise over the effectiveness of vaccines amid Putrajaya’s efforts to get third shots in the arms of all eligible individuals.
Such questions began swirling after the health ministry announced last month that booster shots would be needed for individuals to maintain their vaccination status.
The situation deteriorated after Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said his ministry was looking into the need for a fourth vaccine shot or second booster dose, which some in the anti-vaccine group used to further challenge the effectiveness of Covid-19 vaccines.
But Sharifa Ezat Wan Puteh of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia said calls on social media for the ministry or Khairy himself to meet with the anti-vax group and settle such questions in a debate were not a good idea.
Speaking to MalaysiaNow, she said the anti-vax group might not accept the explanations put forth by the ministry, and would challenge any proof provided by experts.
“It’s not that we want to allow the anti-vax movement to spread,” she said. “We have no means of forcing individuals to get vaccinated as this is a matter of human rights.”
She added however that those who incite others against taking the vaccine should be prosecuted as this could derail the country’s vaccination process.
On Jan 1, Khairy said the health ministry through its technical group was looking into the need for a fourth vaccine shot in the wake of the ultra contagious Omicron variant which has been spreading around the world.
He said the suggestion would be brought to the Covid-19 Immunisation Task Force once the study is complete.
When asked if the health ministry would hold discussions with the anti-vax group, Khairy said advice would be given from time to time based on the available data so that the people would better understand the need for vaccination.
Speaking at a press conference on Thursday, he also stressed that the vaccines were effective in keeping Covid-19 at bay although the period of effectiveness was uncertain.
“We have evidence through diagrams and charts showing that the rates of death and hospitalisation as well as daily infections have dropped from the highest level recorded in August 2021 due to the strong vaccination programme and wide coverage,” he said in response to a question by MalaysiaNow.
“We have evidence through diagrams and charts showing the death rate, hospitalisation rate and daily infection cases have dropped from the highest level recorded in August 2021 until now due to vigorous vaccinations and wide coverage,” he said in response to a MalaysiaNow question.
“This is scientific evidence. When the effectiveness of the vaccines begins to fade, we will administer booster shots to ensure that immunisation levels are at the optimum point.”
Sharifa meanwhile said the government should focus its efforts on giving more booster jabs instead of introducing a fourth round.
“It’s not that a fourth dose is unnecessary, just that now is not the time,” she said.
“The third shot should be the priority right now, even more so given the flood situation.”
She said flood victims at relief centres should be prioritised for booster jabs as they are housed in groups and are at risk of contracting Covid-19.
On the possibility of a fourth vaccine dose, she said Covid-19 jabs might become more or less similar to the influenza vaccine, many different types of which are used to fight the spread of the flu virus.
“We are also unsure if more variants will emerge in the future,” she said.
“Not everyone gets flu jabs. The important thing is for us to continue practising the SOPs like wearing face masks and avoiding crowded places.”