Mammoth task ahead

22 Feb 2021 / 09:47 H.

PETALING JAYA: Health experts have said bumps and hurdles can be expected in the execution of the National Covid-19 Vaccination Programme.

Judging from the experience of other countries, glitches, delays and setbacks are likely to happen.

The Malaysian Medical Association said problems will crop up although the authorities have set a clear timeline and path to take.

“The further the vaccines have to be sent, the more likely there would be problems,” said its president Prof Datuk Dr Subramaniam Muniandy (pix).

He anticipates problems in the record-keeping of patients who have been given the vaccine, especially in situations where electronic records are not kept.

There is also the issue of a lack of manpower which the Health Ministry is currently facing, to which Subramaniam said private doctors and hospitals could assist as they would be easier to train.

“There are 7,000 ministry-trained private GPs (general practitioners) who are
well-distributed nationwide that the government should rope in to help carry out its national vaccination programme,” Subramaniam added.

There could also be issues with the storage and administration of the vaccine, according to epidemiologist Prof Datuk Dr Awang Bulgiba Awang Mahmud.

He said storage will be a tricky logistical problem as it involves a large number of vaccines that require special storage facilities.

The administration of the vaccine would also pose problems as it involves a massive task, with several steps from registration to the actual administration of the vaccine, he added.

“Phase 1 is the easiest to administer as it involves people who are on payroll, but the subsequent phases are the ones which might prove problematic. Details such as registration, call centres, how the MySejahtera application will work and others will need to be sorted out soon,” Awang Bulgiba said.

He pointed out that other countries had encountered various issues in their vaccination programmes.

“These range from insufficient contingency planning, inadequate training of staff, inadequate risk assessment as well as logistical delays in the delivery of vaccines, syringes and personal protection equipment.”

Other issues included inadequate number of staff required for registration, administration, monitoring of vaccines, system issues, venue issues and cold chain issues.

To overcome the lack of manpower, Awang Bulgiba suggested the army as well as private GPs to be involved, but the underlying issue will then be the coordination needed to ensure that the data submitted is accurate.

“We should not forget there needs to be sufficient personnel to help with the registration, reception and directing people.”

Virologist Prof Dr Sandy Loh of the University of Nottingham Malaysia said the main concern would be the storage and administration of the vaccine.

“It requires ultra-low temperature storage. Cold storage facilities of respective hospitals and vaccine storage centres need to be secured and capital investment may be required to refurbish these facilities,” she said.

Loh suggested the ministry engage healthcare students from universities to help with the process.

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