Swiftly reaching 80% Covid-19 herd immunity a ‘crying need’: coronavirus expert

The longer inoculation takes, the harder it becomes to win the war against pandemic, warns molecular virologist

KUALA LUMPUR – What the country needs now in its Covid-19 fight are vaccines, vaccines and more vaccines.

With just 25,000 people being vaccinated per day under the current vaccination programme, accomplishing 80% herd immunity could be an uphill task, said Prof Sunil K. Lal, who has published extensively on the coronavirus.

“We are running a race with the virus and the longer it takes to vaccinate the entire population, it will get tougher to win the war against the currently spiking Covid-19 infections in the country.”

Prof Sunil K. Lal admits Malaysia is disadvantaged when it comes to vaccine procurement, but must find a way to not be as dependent on other countries and the wider global system. – Monash University Malaysia pic

One of his books includes ‘Molecular Biology of the SARS Coronavirus’ published by Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg, Germany.

He says a slower rate of vaccinations gives time for the virus to evolve rapidly by mutating and “gaining better attributes” for infection and spreading.

“Hence, secure and adequate vaccines to inoculate 80% of the Malaysian population in ‘good time’ is the crying need of the hour,” said Sunil. 

Speaking to The Vibes, Sunil mentioned that one in five people is vaccinated in rich and advanced countries, whereas in developing countries like Malaysia only one in 500 is vaccinated.

“This is the big divide,” he highlighted.

Prof Sunil K. Lal’s book ‘Molecular Biology of the SARS Coronavirus’ published by Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg, Germany. – Google pic, May 14, 2021
Prof Sunil K. Lal’s book ‘Molecular Biology of the SARS Coronavirus’ published by Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg, Germany. – Google pic, May 14, 2021

Vaccines – the ‘new gold

Further, the Monash University Malaysia academic pointed out that all vaccines are patented and thus are protected for production only by rich countries.

He said Malaysia is in a disadvantaged position in this global competition as vaccines are the “new gold” of today.

“If we stay dependent on other countries for vaccines, it will be a very long time before the whole population gets fully vaccinated”.

He said some calculations have projected up to “beyond five years” to accomplish the inoculation programme for a population of 31.95 million at the current rate of vaccination in the country.

He said messenger RNA-based vaccines are new technologies and require well-trained and skilled personnel. However, there are many conventional ways of making a vaccine and these can be reconsidered and upscaled in developing nations.

Messenger RNA-based Covid-19 vaccines such as the one from Pfizer require technological capabilities many lower- and middle-income nations do not have. – AFP pic, May 14, 2021
Messenger RNA-based Covid-19 vaccines such as the one from Pfizer require technological capabilities many lower- and middle-income nations do not have. – AFP pic, May 14, 2021

He explained that conventional approaches involve whole virus approaches – utilising inactivated or weakened virus, viral vector – and subunit vaccines – using multiple approaches to express viral subunits using heterologous gene expression systems.

“It is about time Malaysia explored these possibilities,” he said, adding that only those countries producing vaccines using their own technology will lead the world in this race.

‘Vaccine supply slow’

Earlier this month, Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Khairy Jamaluddin, who is also in charge of the National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme, said that while Phase 2 of the programme was on schedule, Malaysia might not have enough vials of the jabs to begin Phase 3 in time for the initially planned start this month.

Khairy lamented that the “inequitable” distribution of vaccines around the world may deter Putrajaya’s third phase of inoculation. 

He said that the “slow rate of the vaccination programme is not due to the inefficiency of the vaccination programme. In fact, we scheduled 260,000 appointments in one day.

Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Khairy Jamaluddin says possible delays to the third phase of the government’s Covid-19 vaccination programme are due to inequitable distribution. – Bernama pic, May 14, 2021
Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Khairy Jamaluddin says possible delays to the third phase of the government’s Covid-19 vaccination programme are due to inequitable distribution. – Bernama pic, May 14, 2021

“It’s not that we cannot do it fast, but vaccine supply is slow,” Khairy conceded when speaking to local media on May 5, after his visit to the AstraZeneca vaccination site at the World Trade Centre here. 

He also said Malaysia, as a developing country, was “extremely dissatisfied” with the distribution of vaccines, adding that pharmaceutical companies had prioritised richer countries.

Meanwhile, a study has highlighted datathat reveals Malaysia has the highest percentage of Covid-19 infections among the population in the region.

The report, published by the office of Malaysian opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim shows that 1.19% of the country’s population were infected as of April 21.

By : Joseph Masilamany – THE VIBES

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