Life After Vaccine
With the development of vaccines, is the end in sight for COVID-19? Berita Sunway looks at whether vaccines can hit the reset button to pre-pandemic days, and why the decision to vaccinate is a step in the right direction for a better future.
Thirty-three-year-old senior nurse Apnidyawati bt Amsy Priyadi was excited when she finally received her vaccination appointment date, after constantly checking her MySejahtera app for weeks.
As a medical frontliner at Sunway Medical Centre, she works in close proximity with healthcare colleagues and patients every day, communicating and performing medical procedures without knowing their COVID-19 screening status.
On 18 March, Apnidyawati was the first in her ward to receive the first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at the hospital.
“I believe that many, especially those in healthcare, have been desperately waiting for this since last year. It feels like we can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel,” said Apnidyawati.
The availability of COVID-19 vaccines has injected optimism into a global pandemic, renewing hopes of beating the coronavirus, and restoring a semblance of normal life after a disruptive and depressing year of lockdown restrictions.
In the US, holding a vaccination card – an official document indicating one’s vaccinated status – grants customers’ entry into events and business premises, as the private sector strives to reopen physical operations safely in the new normal.
Vaccine passports, which are seen as the first step towards the reopening of international travel and kickstarting the global economy, are fast becoming a reality, with countries like China and Denmark already employing their versions of digital health certificates.
Leaders in the European Union have backed the creation of a Digital Green Certificate to facilitate the safe, free movement of citizens within the EU.
As Malaysia has rolled out Phase 2 of its National COVID-19 Immunisation Programme on 19 April, with the end goal of inoculating 80% of the people by February 2022, can we expect to return to pre-pandemic days then? Does vaccination make people invincible to the coronavirus that has infected more than 141 million people and snatched over three million lives worldwide in just one year?
Vaccination: First step in the right direction
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), vaccines reduce the risks of getting a disease by training a person’s immune system to recognise and fight off viruses and bacteria that are targeted.
Currently, there are vaccines to prevent over 20 life-threatening diseases, helping people to live longer, healthier lives. Vaccination helps prevent between two million to three million deaths every year from diseases like diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, influenza, and measles.
As of 18 April, almost nine million people have registered to be vaccinated for COVID-19 in Malaysia – or 35% of the 25.6 million people that need to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity by February next year.
“In a pandemic, vaccination is the safer option for individuals to build an immune response against the virus, as well as to achieve herd immunity against COVID-19 to lower the overall amount of virus spread in the whole population,” explained Sunway Medical Centre’s Allied Health Services Director Sherry Woo, who represents the Sunway Medical Centre’s Vaccination Committee.
Herd immunity or population immunity is the indirect protection from an infectious disease that happens when a population is immune either through vaccination or an immunity developed through previous infection.
“Working towards herd immunity helps protect vulnerable groups who cannot get vaccinated due to health conditions – allergic reactions to the vaccines or those with critical illnesses – and children. Unvaccinated individuals that live in communities with a high proportion of immunity have a significant reduced risk of contracting the virus,” said Woo.
As more people in a community get vaccinated, fewer people remain vulnerable, and there is less possibility for an infected person to pass the pathogen on to another person.
“If a vaccine has, for example, 70% efficacy, it means that relative risk of getting infected is reduced by 70% in those who are vaccinated, compared to an unvaccinated person,” said Woo.
The fight is not over
With pandemic fatigue – defined by the World Health Organization as ‘demotivation to follow recommended protective behaviours’ – at an all-time high after a prolonged lockdown, it is tempting to forgo precautionary measures such as wearing masks, observing social distancing, and practising good hygiene.
However, Woo cautions against letting one’s guard down too soon, even if one is vaccinated, as it takes time for a person to develop an immunity after vaccination.
“A vaccine recipient is still susceptible to being infected by the virus after the shot. Therefore, it is important to continue practicing infection preventive measures, such as wearing a face mask and social distancing,” she said.
“I think it is important to shift our mindset to embrace a new normal. No country or individual is completely safe until the majority of the world’s population is vaccinated. There is still a long time more for this to happen, but it begins now with vaccination. Even if you are vaccinated, we highly encourage you to continue practicing the 3Ws and avoiding the 3Cs,” said Woo.
Please: 3Ws: Wear a mask; Wash your hands; Watch your distance
To avoid: 3Cs: Crowded places; Close contacts; Closed spaces
“As the National COVID-19 Immunisation Programme is the largest vaccination programme in the country’s history, challenges are to be expected. Besides vaccine hesitancy, there are also challenges in accessibility and education when it comes to vaccines,” she said.
“The key effort now is to maximise the approach on awareness, education and adoption, to increase vaccine confidence among the public. This involves education for all age groups, community leaders, religious leaders, technology platforms and public health professionals. Partnerships with private healthcare providers such as Sunway Medical Centre as a designated vaccination centre further expands the reach and speed of achieving herd immunity,” she added.
Everyone must play their part
In support of the National COVID-19 Immunisation Programme, Sunway Group has sponsored the use of Sunway Pyramid Convention Centre (SPCC) for the Ministry of Health and Petaling District Health Centre as the official vaccination venue for 1.8 million people in the Petaling district until February 2022.
As of mid-March, more than 2,500 frontline workers had been vaccinated, with vaccination carried out by the Petaling Health District Office with strict adherence to the SOPs – in small groups and adequate social distancing. Free parking is also provided for those coming to get vaccinated.
Sunway has committed close to RM28 million in actual costs including associated costs for cleaning and sanitisation, as well as opportunity costs resulting from cancelled bookings made earlier by clients for the convention centre, which is the first private vaccination centre in the country.
Since the start of the pandemic last year, Sunway has committed more than RM50 million that includes more than RM 12 million to support Government healthcare institutions and professionals and RM 20 million to provide retailers rent-free days during the movement control order (MCO 1.0) period, and support for the current national immunisation programme. This is Sunway’s commitment – to give back to society and contribute to nation-building.
Having been vaccinated, Apnidyawati hopes everyone will do their part to get vaccinated as well. “I believe we will be able to achieve the 80% vaccination herd immunity or higher if every Malaysian plays their part in breaking the chain of transmission, through having the right knowledge on the importance of vaccination. Getting vaccinated not only breaks the chain of transmission but also protects those who are not able to be vaccinated,” she said.
Those who are worried and fearful of the vaccine should clear their concerns with a medical practitioner and ensure their information on vaccines is from reliable sources, Apnidyawati added.
“While the virus and vaccine are related, they are distinctly separate, as the threat from the COVID-19 virus is real while the threat from the COVID-19 vaccine could very much be perceived,” she said.
This article first appeared in Berita Sunway Issue 72