AstraZeneca vaccination drive kicks off in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor with full take-up rate despite initial concerns on safety

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA — The AstraZeneca vaccination programme kicked off on Wednesday morning (5 May) here and in the surrounding state of Selangor after the government announced last week that it will be given out to those over 18 who are keen on taking the vaccine.

All 268,000 slots were fully booked in just around three hours on Sunday via the Special Committee on COVID-19 Vaccine Supply Access Guarantee‘s registration page, despite anxieties amongst the public regarding the vaccine’s risks — the most feared being rare instances of blood clots, particularly for women under 60.

AstraZeneca was removed from Malaysia’s National Immunisation Programme (NIP) due to growing hesitancy over the vaccine after such cases were reported in several European countries, as announced by the coordinating minister of the National COVID-19 Immunisation Programme, Khairy Jamaluddin at the end of last month.

Under the programme, individuals will receive either the Pfizer-BioNTech or the Sinovac vaccine. However, they will not have the option to choose between the two vaccines.

Four vaccination centres serve those who take up the voluntary AstraZeneca vaccination programme: Universiti Malaya, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, the Putra World Trade Centre (PWTC) in Kuala Lumpur and the Ideal Convention Centre in Shah Alam.

Appointments for the voluntary AstraZeneca vaccination programme today began at 9 am, but people were seen arriving and queuing earlier.

Nadia, a senior executive in digital healthcare business told TOC on Wednesday that those who showed up for the appointment are only allowed to enter the gate during their slot.

Individuals are asked to check-in using the contact tracing app MySejahtera and will have their temperature taken.

Individuals are also handed consent forms, which they will be asked to submit to the administrators before their consultation with a doctor.

When asked if she was required to undergo pre-vaccination screening or assessment for risk factors such as blood disorders, Nadia said: “The doctor will just ask you if there’s anything you don’t understand.”

“I told him about my concerns, as I was on antibiotics the day before. Then he said it’s all okay,” she said, adding that doctors will screen for allergies.

Once the process is cleared, the doctor at hand will sign the consent form. Individuals will then be asked to wait for their turn.

Nadia said that the process of having the vaccine adminstered on her was “very fast.”

“Jab done, go out, terus (straight to) observation,” she said.

When queried about how long she was required to be in observation, Nadia said: “I think about 30 minutes.”

Following the observation period, individuals will then be given a vaccine card.

Prompted about participating in the voluntary AstraZeneca vaccine programme instead of waiting to receive other vaccines under the NIP, Nadia told TOC that the government’s decision to allow people to opt in is a good decision, even when some people “may think it’s iffy that it got taken out of the NIP”.

The opt-in programme, Nadia opined, is “one way to speed up the vaccination process for the population”.

“I actually don’t know when my turn would have been for the NIP. But I’m happy that I managed to get this early slot.”

“Hopefully I can return to Sarawak without (undergoing) quarantine,” she said.

Notwithstanding concerns surrounding the AstraZeneca vaccine’s safety, Nadia said that she trusts the government enough that it is a good vaccine.

“If it does more harm than good, they wouldn’t have allowed it, right?” she said.

When asked about when her second dose is scheduled for, Nadia said that she was told by the doctor who attended to her that it will take three months until her next dose, while an administrator told her that it would take around two weeks.

Khairy said on Twitter that the 12-week interval is in tandem with the World Health Organisation (WHO)’s recommendation.

“Dosing interval for the AstraZeneca vaccine in the opt-in programme is set at 12 weeks. This is in line with WHO recommendations and is current practice in the UK,” he said.

An entrepreneur based in Selangor, who spoke to TOC on condition of anonymity, said that he experienced no side effects within the first 12 hours of receiving the jab.

However, he began to have chills and a fever, which “lasted the whole of yesterday”, he told TOC on Wednesday.

“As I haven’t been sick for a long time, getting this mild fever did make me feel slightly uncomfortable, but not enough to hinder my functioning for the rest of the day,” he said, adding that he had taken paracetamol to reduce his fever.

TOC understands that he had received the AstraZeneca vaccine on Monday under a separate priority programme.

Blood clots rare; benefits of AstraZeneca vaccine outweigh risks: Ministry of Health

The Ministry of Health (KKM) in a statement on Tuesday said that while cases involving blood clots as a side effect of the AstraZeneca vaccine are “very rare”, it will monitor such instances and will guarantee prompt treatment should such cases occur.

It added that international regulatory bodies such as the European Medicine Agency (EMA) have confirmed that the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine outweigh its risks.

“Based on clinical data in the US and the UK, this vaccine is highly effective in preventing severe COVID-19 infections, cases that require hospitalisation, and even death,” said KKM.

However, the Ministry urged those who have been inoculated with the AstraZeneca vaccine to seek urgent medical attention within four days to four weeks if the following symptoms arise after the first jab:

  • Migraines that are unresponsive to painkillers;
  • Migraines that occur or worsen when lying down or bending over;
  • Migraines coupled by blurred vision, nausea, difficulty speaking, and lethargy or seizures;
  • Small spots on the skin; and
  • Breathing difficulties.

AstraZeneca opt-in programme to be extended to the rest of Malaysia: Khairy Jamaluddin

Beyond KL and Selangor, the voluntary programme for the AstraZeneca vaccine will be extended to the rest of the country as the government is anticipating the arrival of at least 1.1 million additional doses this month from the COVAX Facility, said Khairy on Monday.

Take-up for the AstraZeneca vaccine will remain on an opt-in basis, he told a press conference in Putrajaya, adding that the government aims to engage with those who do not have Internet access.

“For the first programme that we launched yesterday (May 2), we restricted it to Kuala Lumpur and Selangor and wanted to do it online. I do understand it presents challenges to people without access to the Internet … So going forward, we will take into account these people and reach out to our community clinics,” said Khairy, who is also the Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation.

Another 600,000 doses are expected to arrive next month. 400,000 is slated to come in Jul, directly from AstraZeneca, he noted. In Aug and Sep, 1.2 million AstraZeneca vaccines will arrive in Malaysia, he added.

The AstraZeneca vaccine for COVID-19 was developed jointly by British-Swedish pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford.

It works by harnessing an adenoviral vector, in which a harmless common cold virus that typically spreads among chimpanzees is modified.

The modified virus contains a gene from the coronavirus’ spike protein, which is the part of the virus that triggers an immune response.

This will, in turn, prompt the immune system to produce antibodies to fight COVID-19 in the event that one is infected with the virus.

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