After almost a year of this on-again-off-again lockdown, Malaysians are finally getting some good news: the COVID-19 vaccine has arrived in Malaysia!
Earlier this month, Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyuddin Yassin announced that Malaysia would be setting up the largest vaccine programme in the history of our nation by the end of February.
“As much as 80% of the population, or 26.5 million individuals, will receive the vaccine free of charge,” he said in a special live address, describing the vaccine as a “ray of hope” for all Malaysians.
But as welcome as this news is, it still begs one very important question: how exactly do we get our vaccines?
The Nitty Gritty
According to the recently released National COVID-19 Immunisation Programme Handbook, the vaccine will be provided free of charge to anyone living in Malaysia, citizen or non-citizen alike (after all, the virus doesn’t care about nationality, so why should we?).
To make sure that there’s enough vaccines for everyone, our government is currently making deals with many suppliers from all over the world. As of now, the current supply of COVID-19 vaccines in Malaysia includes:
95% efficacy, two doses
62% – 90% efficacy, two doses
50.4% – 91.25% efficacy, two doses
65.7% efficacy, one dose
91.6%, two doses
This first batch of vaccines will be the American Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which obtained approval from both the Drug Control Authority (DCA) and the National Pharmaceutical Regulatory Agency (NPRA) back in January 2021.
This particular vaccine was chosen as it showed a very reliable 95% efficacy. Unfortunately, it needs to be stored at a super cold temperature of -75 degrees Celsius in order to remain stable, making it difficult to distribute in a tropical country like Malaysia. We’ll need to use special cold-storage equipment just to keep it from going bad!
How Will the Vaccine Be Distributed?
The vaccine supply will be distributed in several stages all across the country:
Stage 1 (February 2021 to April 2021)
The first stage will be focused mainly on frontliners, especially those working in the healthcare sector. Those working in essential services including defence and security personnel will also be prioritised during this stage.
Stage 2 (April 2021 to August 2021)
The second stage will focus on those in high-risk groups, including the elderly, OKU and those suffering from chronic illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, etc.
Stage 3 (May 2021 to February 2022)
This stage will involve the mass distribution of vaccines to ordinary rakyat. It is estimated that at least 13.7 million people across Malaysia will receive the vaccine during this period, with priority given to those in Red zones, Yellow, and then Green respectively.
At the moment, all vaccines are only meant for those aged 18 and above. In the future, vaccines may become available to children, but since nobody has done clinical trials with children yet, the government has decided that they’d rather be safe than sorry.
If everything goes according to plan, at least 80% of Malaysian adults will have been vaccinated by February 2022, ensuring a significant decrease in COVID-19 infections and deaths.
How Do I Register for the Vaccination?
The registration for the vaccine will start on 1 March 2021. You can register through:
Hotline (at the time of writing this article, it has yet to be launched)
Outreach Programme (for rural and interior areas)
Personal Registration (at public and private healthcare facilities across the nation)
After registering, details such as your appointment date and vaccination center will be sent via the MySejahtera application, phone call, or SMS.
There will be 605 Vaccination Administration Centers (VACs) set up all across the country. These will include not only normal clinical facilities but also temporary facilities set up in stadiums, convention centers, community halls, etc., so make sure to confirm where your location is before heading out.
Once the vaccine has been injected, you’ll need to wait in observation for 30 minutes before receiving your vaccination card and sent home.
Later, you will receive the appointment date for your second dosage. This should NOT be missed as you will only get your COVID-19 Vaccine Immunisation Digital Certificate after the second dose.
Can The Vaccine Make Me Sick?
Although there is a chance of side effects after taking the COVID-19 vaccine, they tend to be mild and only last for a short time. The most commonly reported side effects have been:
pain/swelling at the injection site
swelling of lymph nodes
In order to identify any Adverse Events Following Immunisation (AEFI), those who receive the vaccine will be able to report any negative effects via the MySejahtera app. A special committee will also be set up to investigate any serious AEFI incidents.
Busting Common Vaccine Myths
Considering all the drama and trouble that’s occurred over the past year, it should probably come as no surprise that a lot of people have the wrong idea about the vaccine. After all, with so many wild claims and straight up misinformation flying around everywhere, it can be hard to figure out what’s real and what’s just a hoax.
To help ensure your peace of mind, we’ve gathered information to debunk some of the most common vaccine myths going around social media today.
Myth 1: The COVID-19 vaccine isn’t safe because it was developed so quickly
Fact: Once the scale of the COVID-19 pandemic became apparent, companies all over the world poured a significant amount of money into developing a vaccine. However, while it was considered an emergency situation, that doesn’t mean that researchers were allowed to bypass safety protocols or skip their testing.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, for example, was tested by approximately 43,000 people before it could receive United States Food and Drugs Administration (US FDA) emergency use authorisation.
The manufacturer had to monitor at least half the study participants for at least two months after completing the vaccination series in order to prove that their vaccine can be safely and effectively used by the general population.
Aside from that, any COVID-19 vaccine used in Malaysia also has to be approved by the NPRA. As the body responsible for evaluating vaccines in Malaysia, they have set strict standards based on scientific, clinical and technical data.
In other words: any vaccine will have gone through stringent tests and evaluations by many, many medical experts long before reaching you.
Myth 2: You don’t need to get the vaccine if you’ve already had COVID-19 in the past
Fact: While those who’ve recently recovered from COVID-19 will have some protection — known as natural immunity — the problem is that it doesn’t last for very long.
After enough time passes, your natural immunity fades away and you become vulnerable again, which is why you’re recommended to get the vaccine even if you’ve already suffered from COVID-19 in the past.
That said, those who’ve had the disease recently should delay the vaccination until about 90 days from diagnosis. Those who are quarantined after exposure or are currently showing COVID-19 symptoms should also avoid getting vaccinated for the time being.
Aside from that, those who are in the vulnerable group (elderly, pregnant, immune-compromised, etc.) or are currently taking any other medications or vaccines should consult their doctor to reduce the chance of complications.
Myth 3: I won’t need to wear a face mask after getting vaccinated
Fact: Just because you’ve been vaccinated doesn’t mean that everyone around you has. While the vaccine can prevent you from getting sick, it is still unconfirmed whether or not a vaccinated person can carry the virus and infect other people.
So until we get confirmation either way, it’s probably better to be safe rather than sorry. Even after getting your vaccine, you should still practice precautions such as mask wearing and washing hands.
Myth 4: The COVID-19 vaccine is haram and should not be taken by Muslims
Fact: The use of vaccines is not a new thing for Malaysia’s religious authorities. In fact, the laws regarding its use have been in place since 1988.
In this particular case, the National Council for Islamic Religious Affairs has already announced that the COVID-19 vaccine is considered harus (permissible).
Even outside of Malaysia, many other world fatwa institutions have also accepted the need for vaccine use, including institutions such as al-Azhar al-Sharif, the Fatwa Council of the United Arab Emirates Government and the Majma ‘Fuqaha’ al-Shari’ah United States.
Myth 5: The COVID-19 vaccine will change my DNA
Fact: Despite what the Spiderman movies might show, human DNA cannot be changed that easily. As unfortunate as it is, in reality you can’t just get an injection and suddenly develop superpowers.
The Pfizer vaccines we’ll be getting are messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines, which work by instructing the cells in your body how to make a protein that triggers an immune response.
In other words, it’s doing the cellular equivalent of giving someone a recipe to show them how to cook a dish (in this case, the dish is “how to stop a COVID-19 infection”). When you hand someone a recipe, you don’t expect the recipe book to eat them, right?
By the same token, mRNA will not interact or do anything to the DNA of your cells. It’s just the recipe book. After your cells have finished reading the instructions, they will just break down the mRNA and get rid of it.
Myth 6: The vaccine will insert a microchip into my brain
Fact: I’ll be honest, I thought that this was a dumb meme at first, but it turns out that there are people who actually believe this.
So I’m going to make this as clear as possible: there is no microchip. There is no mind control device. The vaccine will not be used to track people or gather your personal information for Bill Gates/Donald Trump/Mariah Carey/space aliens/whatever.
If you still believe in this, I really don’t know what to say anymore. If you are really that desperate to avoid being tracked by anyone, I guess my only recommendation is to throw away all your electronic devices and go live alone in the jungle for the rest of your life.
Protect Yourself, Protect Us All
While Malaysia has made a lot of progress over the years, the sheer amount of misinformation being spread around is perhaps a sign that we all need to be better informed, especially when it comes to the topic of physical health.
Although this past year has been a dark and difficult time for us all, the end is nearly in sight. As long as we all stay safe, take care of ourselves and each other, one day this lockdown will be just a bad memory that will fade away as quickly as the Game of Thrones finale.