The Malaysian Health Coalition (MHC) commends the government's initial efforts in the National COVID-19 Immunization Program, especially in prioritizing healthcare workers in Phase 1 of the rollout.
That said, we reiterate our call for transparency and inclusivity in executing the program as its success requires the mobilization of all Malaysians and residents of Malaysia (refer to our statement dated 15 February 2021).
In particular, we urge the following:
1. Improve transparency across the board
We strongly urge the government to make all clinical trial data submitted to the National Pharmaceutical Regulatory Agency (NPRA) for all approved COVID-19 vaccines available to the public.
We also propose establishing an independent adverse event following immunization (AEFI) review committee that reports to NPRA and can contribute to combating misinformation.
All data related to COVID-19 vaccines should be accessible via a central repository such as the one created by the US Center for Disease Control.
Finally, as the MySejahtera app is constantly being updated, users must be assured that their information is recorded and protected in accordance with the Personal Data Protection Act 2010.
2. Take vaccine confidence seriously
Only about 12% of the population have registered for the vaccine (as of 8 March 2021). This suggests that vaccine confidence still very low.
It is time for the government to act on, not just talk about, improving vaccine confidence among residents of Malaysia. The approach must be multilingual, multiplatform, and multipronged, involving community leaders of all backgrounds.
There must be a proactive effort to improve overall science and health literacy by communicating facts in accessible terms. Higher science literacy has the bonus of helping other vaccination programs and fighting pseudoscience, fake products, and products with misleading claims.
3. Ensure equity and independence
We welcome the government's decision to allow private general practitioners to administer COVID-19 vaccines, especially to B40 communities (as announced on 8 March 2021).
We urge the government to also establish partnerships with private hospitals so all hands can be on deck to ensure available vaccines are administered as soon as possible.
At the same time, all government agencies must maintain its independence during the rollout, and not yield to lobby and interest groups.
The COVID-19 vaccine is a public good and must be handled as such until all vulnerable groups in Malaysia are vaccinated first.
The government's aim to vaccinate 80% of the population before February 2022 is bold but achievable. It will require all public and private stakeholders as well as individual members of society to work together to make it happen.