The race to herd immunity

Crowded public spaces. Photo for illustration purposes. Photo: Bernama

After months of battling the Covid-19 pandemic, people around the world race to get vaccinated as reaching high vaccination rates will be the key to achieving broad protection against the coronavirus. Fortunately, Sarawak has achieved herd immunity for its adult population, with 86.7 percent already fully vaccinated.

Enough vaccines for the people

As countries all over the world battle against Covid-19, the race continues to achieve herd immunity. At the miment, there are no known cures available for the coronavirus, and all we can rely on is vaccination to increase immunisation. The John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Health shares that ‘herd immunity’ meant that majority of the population is immune to an infectious disease.

Sharing an example, the article pointed out that if 80 percent of a population were immune to a virus, four out of every five people who encountered someone with a disease would not get sick. In this way, the spread of infectious diseases is kept under control.

There are two ways a population can reach herd immunity — through a large proportion of infection within a population and by vaccination. While the former has generated a spike in mutated Covid-19 virus across the globe, and until 80 percent are vaccinated, we are still not at a level where we can return to normal. Hence, the article announced a race between infection and injection.

Achieving herd immunity

Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg said despite high cases reported daily, the hospitalisation rate in Sarawak remained low as only a handful suffered category three, four and five. Photo credit: Sarawak Voice

Just weeks ago, Sarawak became the first state in Malaysia to achieve herd immunity after 80 percent of its adult population were inoculated with the Covid-19 vaccines.

As of August 29, 90.4 percent of the state’s eligible population have received at least one dose of the vaccine, while 86.7 percent were fully vaccinated. Since the nationwide vaccine rollout in February, a total of 3.5 million vaccine doses were administered in Sarawak. Of the total, 1,824,160 were first vaccine doses, while 1,676,573 were second vaccine doses.

During a recent groundbreaking ceremony of the Laku head office in Miri, Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg said while the state continued to register a large number of Covid-19 infections, most of them were not severe cases requiring intensive care. We hope that this trend will continue,” he said.

With majority already inoculated, Minister for Local Government and Housing Dr Sim Kui Hian said that vaccines in Sarawak are waiting for its recipient. Photo credit: Sarawak Voice

Encouraging the population to get full vaccination, Minister for Local Government and Housing Dr Sim Kui Hian often shares the statistic report by the Sarawak Disaster Management Committee (SDMC) on his social media.

After achieving herd immunity, and despite the spread of the Delta variant, daily reports show that 99 percent of the cases are in Categories 1 and 2. Only a handful of cases reported daily are either in Category 3 (lung infection), Category 4 (lung infection and need oxygen) or Category 5 (lung infection and need ventilator).

A vaccination experience

In Sarawak, the first person to receive the Covid-19 vaccine was the Chief Minister. The statewide vaccination programme started on February 27 and was done according to phases. After Abang Johari’s first dose, the state’s frontliners and those who were at higher risk were next. These comprised senior citizens and individuals with comorbidities.

As I was pregnant, I was told to initially postpone my vaccination, when most of my comrades had their shots in June. However, once the National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme (PICK) coordinating minister Khairy Jamaluddin announced that the vaccines were suitable for pregnant women in June, I was excited.

Khairy also added that vaccines were only available for mothers between 14 and 33 weeks of pregnancy. During his announcement, I was four weeks shy to be eligible for a shot. It was only at the end of July that I qualified for the vaccine.

Coincidentally, Sarawak announced walk-in vaccinations at certain centres. With a high majority of the population vaccinated, Dr Sim shared that, unlike other states, vaccines were waiting for their recipients instead of the other way around. “We are very fortunate now because we have enough vaccines for the people,” he told reporters in July.

Taking the opportunity, I decided to visit Stadium Perpaduan to be inoculated. I was worried that the stadium would be filled with people wanting to get their vaccines. Since it was open to all, I thought there would be a huge crowd. But to my surprise, it was empty with ample parking spaces. My only assumption was that it was true that most Kuchingites had already received their vaccines.

It was truly a remarkable experience as Sarawak had reached its goal of vaccinating its adult population. I have to applaud the state’s efficiency in rolling out the vaccines and its initiative to open different vaccination centres made it easier for the public.

My second dose was in the middle of August. I did not suffer from any side effects after both doses, depaite being pregnant — only a sore arm which I considered normal. During my second dose, I managed to talk to a volunteer at the stadium. I asked her that since the centre was empty, why did I have to wait for the injection.

She explained that one vial of Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine needed six recipients to be present before it could be opened. Each recipient would be given 0.3 millimetres of dosage at a time.

I wasn’t the only pregnant mother who visited the centre to get her dose. Hence, I was glad that the awareness to get vaccinated during the gestational period was high. According to statistics, the risk of complications in pregnant women when contracting the virus is high. Thus, getting a vaccine is an essential preventive measure.

Higher risk when pregnant

Recently, a pregnant celebrity, singer Siti Sarah Raissuddin underwent complications due to the virus. She first tested positive and experienced symptoms like a severe cough and low oxygen levels.

After her health deteriorated, Siti, who was not vaccinated, was put in a medically induced to coma and delivered her baby via surgery days before her passing. She never recovered from the coma — and that alarming fact got Malaysians, if not the whole world (the news was also published by BBC News), on their feet as pregnant women were urged to get their vaccinations.

Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah urges all pregnant mothers to get inoculated to prevent complications when contracting Covid-19. Photo credit: Bernama

Speaking during a press conference on August 13, Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah encouraged all pregnant mothers to go for their vaccinations as it was the best way to prevent serious Covid-19 effects.

As of August 8 this year, Dr Noor Hisham said a total of 146,759 pregnant women had received at least one dose of the vaccine while 20 percent were fully vaccinated.

He added that this year saw a drastic increase in deaths among pregnant mothers. As of August 9, there were 70 cases of pregnant women who died from Covid-19 complications.

“The percentage of pregnant women infected with Covid-19 who received intensive care rose from three percent on July 10 to 5.3 percent on August 7,” he said.

Pregnant women were also advised not to pay attention to misleading information spread online on vaccination during pregnancy. The risk of Covid-19 complications in unvaccinated pregnant women is actually higher compared to those
who have been vaccinated.

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