Govt studying to shorten AstraZeneca dose interval

PUTRAJAYA: The Health Ministry is studying whether the time interval for the second AstraZeneca vaccine dose can be shortened from 12 weeks to six weeks, Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Adham Baba said.

He said this would depend on expert reports on the Covid-19 situation in the country, whether the vaccine recipients require maximum protection from the second dose more quickly.

“We still have to conduct continuous genome sequencing activity to detect if there is a new, more violent Covid-19 variant that could affect the efficacy of the AstraZeneca vaccine. The decision will be made by the JKJAV (Covid-19 Vaccine Supply Access Guarantee Special Committee) if the second dose must be given sooner,” he said in a news conference at his office here, today.

Currently, the interval for the AstraZeneca vaccine is 12 weeks or three months.

Meanwhile, he said the government would study reports from the country’s health expert and Australian health authority after the country stopped administering the AstraZeneca vaccine to individuals aged below 60, following concern that the vaccine was linked to blood clot cases among the group.

Dr Adham said this was especially on the supply of the AstraZeneca vaccine produced by suppliers from Thailand which would arrive in July.

“Our experts will re-evaluate whether the AstraZeneca vaccine is suitable for those aged 60 and below,” he said.

Malaysia had procured the Covid-19 vaccine produced by AstraZeneca through the Covax facility and directly from the manufacturer.

Dr Adham said so far, the overall data showed that the AstraZeneca vaccine did not cause serious harm to recipients in Malaysia.

Commenting on the first dose strategy, he said the government has no plan to implement such a strategy because the vaccine supply ordered was sufficient for the people in this country.

Through the strategy, the first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine is given to more people by extending the interval for the second dose. The strategy has been implemented by countries such as the United Kingdom and Germany.

In a related development, Dr Adham said the government was implementing the ‘vaccinate first, register later’ method for those who are having difficulties registering for vaccination, especial in the rural areas.

This was done by activating the mobile team to track down the target groups that were supposed to get the vaccine in the second phase of the National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme.

“We are targeting to inoculate 9.4 million people in the second phase but so far, only 4.4 million have registered via the MySejahtera application. So, we are going all out to deploy the team to cover all recipients, before we can proceed with the third phase,” he said.

The second phase of the immunisation programme focuses on senior citizens, persons with disabilities and those with chronic illnesses.

Meanwhile, Dr Adham said those who have been vaccinated must continue to practice public health action so that the risk of infection could be contained effectively.

“There is still a probability for those who have been vaccinated to be infected with Covid-19 as the virus has been in the community. We need to continue practising new norms such as wearing face masks, washing hands frequently, observing physical distance and avoiding crowded places and direct contact with others,” he said.

He added that Covid-19 vaccination serves to protect recipients from getting a serious infection, hence, the government through the National Pharmaceutical Regulatory Agency (NPRA) would ensure that whatever vaccines that are being used have been confirmed safe, effective and of high quality.

Dr Adham said the government was in the midst of formulating a strategy to inoculate individuals aged between 12 and 17, totalling 3.5 million people, following the approval to administer the Comirnaty vaccine produced by Pfizer-BioNTech to the group. – Bernama