KUALA LUMPUR ,Jan 22 – The Covid-19 vaccine is pivotal in reducing the morbidity and death rates in the ongoing pandemic, especially the elderly and those who have higher risks, an expert in respiratory medicine said.
An internal and respiratory medicine consultant at the Lung Centre of Pantai Hospital Kuala Lumpur, Dr Helmy Haja Mydin said this includes frontliners, who face higher risk on a regular basis as a consequence of facing the virus’ dangers.
“The vaccine has been proven to be safe for general use and is particularly important to protect those with underlying chronic diseases. It also adds a layer of protection for services that are essential to keep the country going,” he said.
Although the majority of patients with Covid-19 cope well, Helmy said there is a significant number who are at risk of severe complications and poor outcomes, including those who are elderly (under 50 years of age) or those with comorbidities such as diabetes, hypertension, heart failure, kidney failure, and obesity.
“It is worth noting that many of us in Malaysia have these comorbidities. For example, Malaysia has one of the highest rates of diabetes in Asia – one in five adults, or approximately 3.9 million people over the age of 18 in Malaysia, has this disease.
“In severe cases of Covid-19, the lungs can be damaged. In worst-case scenarios, multiple organs will start failing. For those who survive, some are left with long-term consequences such as lung fibrosis and lethargy,” he said.
Helmy said this is why a vaccine is very important alongside public health measures such as wearing a face mask and practising physical distancing, which all work together to reduce the risk of the Covid-19 virus affecting individuals, and of it overwhelming healthcare facilities.
While cautioning that there will be some for whom the vaccine would not be suitable, such as children and pregnant women, Helmy said they can still be protected by vaccinating the people around them and creating herd immunity.
He said that once the spread of the virus is halted, even the unvaccinated would be protected due to a drop in exposure risk, which would also allow greater freedom of movement and directly impact the nation’s economic recovery.
On the vaccine’s side effects, Helmy said it was usually a mild fever as well as discomfort in the area the injection is administered to, and in rare circumstances, people may also develop allergic reactions.
“The United States Centre for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that allergic reactions to the Pfizer vaccine occur in approximately 11 people for every one million vaccinations. Compare this with the death rate of Covid-19 in Malaysia: four in every 1,000 infections, and that does not include those who survive but are left with organ failure,” he said.
He said that the medical fraternity has always had a system to look into potential effects of medication and in many situations, there are other factors that can lead to a bad outcome such as an underlying medical illness.
“These are not always shared with the public, which makes it difficult to contextualise news reports. A headline may link a death to a vaccine, but a follow-up story a few days later that is buried in the newspaper may reveal that the patient actually died from an underlying cancer.
“It is very important to consume news in a critical fashion, and to obtain information from reputable resources,” he said.
On another note, he said it is important to remember that any vaccine given to the people will undergo strict testing by the Health Ministry to ensure its safety.
“We are neither very fast or very slow in procuring the vaccines – countries like South Korea and Japan will be immunising their population around the same time.
“This gives the government ample time to prepare for the logistical challenges of vaccinating the population. Just as importantly, it gives us time to observe the challenges other countries are facing and learn from their experiences,” he said.
Last month, Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin said almost 27 million or over 80% of Malaysia’s population are expected to be vaccinated against Covid-19 by the first quarter of next year.
The first batch of vaccines is expected to be received by the end of February, with the first group to be vaccinated by early March and the vaccination programme implemented in phases over a period of 12 months.