AstraZeneca vaccine for Sarawakians on voluntary basis

KUCHING: The Covid-19 Immunisation Task Force Sarawak (CITF Sarawak) has decided to allow the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine in Sarawak on a voluntary, first-come, first-served basis to complement the state’s Covid-19 vaccination rollout plan.

Sarawak Disaster Management Committee (SDMC) chairman Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah Embas said this was after a review and presentation by the Sarawak Covid-19 Vaccine Advisory Group (Scovag) on the use of the vaccine (now called Vaxzevria) for eligible Sarawak population on a voluntary basis to CITF Sarawak.

“The vaccine will be supplied to Sarawak through the coordination of the national CITF and will be offered to the eligible population, on a voluntary ‘first-come, first-served’, by appointment basis,” he said in a statement on Tuesday (May 18).

Uggah added that separate designated vaccination centres would be set up and prepared for this purpose and they would be announced in due time.

He said a local paper had conducted an online survey on May 4 in Sarawak on the reception of the AstraZeneca vaccine after it was offered in Selangor and Kuala Lumpur on a voluntary basis.

“The result showed that 69.4 percent of the 1,037 responses were in favour of giving Sarawakians the option of being vaccinated with the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine. However, only 52.9 percent of the 1,040 people who responded actually wanted to be vaccinated with the vaccine.

“Given this new insight and the willingness of the people in Sarawak to have the choice of the AstraZeneca vaccine, CITF Sarawak has agreed to let the vaccine be used in Sarawak on a voluntary, first-come, first-served basis — by appointment,” he explained.

Uggah, who is also Deputy Chief Minister, said earlier, Scovag had recommended the use of the vaccine among those above 60 years old in the urban areas, based on the very low overall severe adverse events of 6.5 per million doses and the high benefit to risk ratio among those above 60 years old.

He said, however, this evidence-based recommendation had to be balanced with the reality in society where many people were wary and hesitant to get vaccinated after it was announced that the AstraZeneca vaccine would be used.

“Following the federal government’s announcement that the AstraZeneca vaccine would be part of the nationwide Covid-19 vaccination rollout, around 8,000 people had cancelled their online vaccination registration.

“There was also increased vaccine hesitancy, with some people not showing up for their vaccination appointments,” he pointed out.

Thus, Uggah said a decision was made to take the AstraZeneca vaccine out of the National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme, and the vaccine was offered to those who volunteered to have the vaccine on a first-come, first-served basis.

“Based on the disturbing lesson learned through the rejection rate of vaccination registration, CITF Sarawak had opted to not receive the AstraZeneca vaccine for its Covid-19 vaccination rollout plan.

“The Sarawak government did not want the Covid-19 vaccination programme in Sarawak to be jeopardised by the fear and hesitancy due to the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine,” he added in reference to Sarawak’s earlier rejection of the AstraZeneca vaccines.