New Straits Times
CALL TO STEP UP GENETIC SURVEILLANCE
Need to beef up public health capacity too in wake of Omicron threat, says PSC chairman
THE Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) for Health, Science and Innovation has urged the government to increase its genomic surveillance capacity and strengthen the public health capacity in view of the threat of the Omicron variant.
Its committee chairman Dr Kelvin Yii said this was to ensure that the country could proactively deal with the threat and avoid an uncontrollable surge in infections that would overwhelm the health system again and cause unnecessary deaths.
He said Malaysia’s genomic sequencing to detect the variant was abysmal as the country had only sequenced 0.1 per cent of Covid-19 cases in the past two weeks, or only one sample per 1,000 cases.
He said this when comparing the country’s genomic surveillance capacity rate with countries such as Denmark that had 50 per cent, Sweden at 36.7 per cent and the United Kingdom at 16.1 per cent.
He said this was also vital as Malaysia needed to determine if it indeed had only one case of the Omicron variant.
“We are unsure if that’s (really) just one case of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 detected in Malaysia so far — or we are actually not doing enough genomic sequencing to conclusively identify whether this new variant has breached our country’s borders even before this.”
DR Yii, who is the DAP candidate for the Batu Kawah seat in the Sarawak election, took a day off from campaigning to chair the PSC meeting at the Parliament House in Kuala Lumpur.
Present at the meeting were Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin, Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah and others to get an update on the Omicron threat in the country and the government’s plan to address any possible threat.
Dr Yii, who is also Bandar Kuching member of parliament (MP), said he arrived in Kuala Lumpur on Monday night and spent the whole morning yesterday discussing the Omicron threat. He returned to Kuching yesterday night to continue his campaign.
Apart from that, he said, all resources must be pulled into fasttracking the booster rollout in the country to ensure that more eligible recipients, especially the high-risk communities, received optimum protection from the coronavirus.
Currently the average uptake of the booster dose nationwide was only about 60 per cent, and this figure was about 59 per cent in Sarawak.
This meant about 40 per cent of eligible recipients had turned it down due to various reasons.
Hesitancy due to mixing vaccines (heterologous vaccination) was prevalent, especially among certain elderly communities, and this was one of the reasons for the poor reception towards booster doses.
Dr Yii said many recipients also failed to receive their booster dose due to a lack of manpower and government support at the vaccination centres.
“All vaccination centres (for the booster doses) are only handled by general practitioners (GPs) and volunteers right now, unlike the rollout for the first and second doses, which had resources from the Health Ministry.
“I urge the Health Ministry to step in and increase capacity to expedite the rollout process of Covid-19 booster doses, especially in view of the threat of the Omicron variant,” he added.