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Jump in people getting shots as Covid-19 cases rise in Malaysia

PETALING JAYA (THE STAR) - There has been a 51 per cent increase in the number of people being vaccinated over the last two weeks in Malaysia, as new Omicron sub-variants create fears of another Covid-19 wave.

According to figures from ProtectHealth, vaccination went up from 38,822 during the week of June 27-July 3 to 50,774 during the week of July 4-July 10, a 31 per cent increase.

From the week of July 11-July 17, there was a 51 per cent increase to 76,433.

As infections and hospitalisations rise across the country, health experts are also calling for Malaysians, especially those over 60 as well as the medically vulnerable, to get their second booster shot.

This is because the Omicron sub-variants are highly contagious and can bypass immunity from a past infection or vaccination.

Public health expert Prof Dr Moy Foong Ming of Universiti Malaya said the Omicron sub-variant BA.5 could evade antibody responses in people with previous Covid-19 infection and those who had been fully vaccinated and boosted.

Reinfections may be inevitable but boosters will help provide protection against severe symptoms, hospitalisation and even death.

"Even though the BA.5 does not seem to cause more severe symptoms compared to BA.1 and BA.2, the elderly and vulnerable groups will likely experience severe symptoms," Prof Moy said.

She cautioned that if the total caseload increases tremendously, even with a low percentage of hospitalisation, the number will be a huge burden on the healthcare system.

"We don't want to lose precious lives if it can be prevented," she said.

For those below 60, it may not be necessary to take the second booster at this moment.

"If this group of individuals had received their third dose, they should be well protected from severe symptoms," said Prof Moy.

"When new vaccines are able to bring a stronger immune response against all new variants, then a second booster may be offered to all."

Prof Moy also said Malaysians should consider taking a flu shot if they were in the high-risk group, especially those aged 65 and above, and with chronic health conditions such as diabetes and weakened immune system.

Public health expert Prof Dr Sharifa Ezat Wan Puteh of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia said sub-variants BA.4 and BA.5 were known to evade immunity, hence breakthrough infections could occur.

"The risk will be reduced if you obtain another booster," she said.

"The elderly, immunocompromised, as well as people with morbidities and frontliners should be prioritised for a second booster. But now, even those who are young and have received only two doses should get a third jab," she said.

Prof Sharifa Ezat also reminded the public to get tested for Covid-19 and influenza if symptomatic, as these can mimic each other and it is possible to get infected with both.

"This impedes recovery. If possible, get vaccinated against both," she said.

"The government should work on obtaining supply for flu tests and pushing the flu vaccine price down."

Volunteers For Community Engagement and Empowerment For Covid-19 chairman Datuk Dr Zainal Ariffin Omar reminded Malaysians to continue with good personal health practices such as wearing a face mask, avoiding crowded places, self-testing and quarantining if positive with Covid-19, as well as observing a good diet.

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