PM Muhyiddin Receives Malaysia’s First COVID-19 Vaccine Shot

BenarNews staff
Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta and Bangkok
2021-02-24
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PM Muhyiddin Receives Malaysia’s First COVID-19 Vaccine Shot Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin receives an injection of the Pfizer BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at the Putrajaya District Health Office, Feb. 24, 2021.
Courtesy Malaysian Information Department

Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin on Wednesday received the nation’s first shot of the COVID-19 vaccine in a nationally televised event as authorities began inoculations for 500,000 health-care and frontline workers.

Also on Wednesday, neighboring Indonesia began vaccinating teachers to prepare to open schools in the next academic year, and Thailand received its first two shipments of coronavirus vaccine. Philippine officials, meanwhile, were told they should expect their first shipment in about a week.

Muhyiddin, who said he did not feel any discomfort from the jab of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine, called on people to get inoculated. Health Director General Noor Hisham Abdullah and four frontline health officers also received jabs of the U.S. and German-made vaccine, which arrived in the country on Feb. 21.

“I would like to appeal to all Malaysians and those residing in Malaysia and eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine to register through the MySejahtera application,” the prime minister said on national TV, noting that vaccines would be given for free to citizens and non-citizens.

MySejahtera is an app used to update and track new COVID-19 infections nationwide. Those already signed on to the app would need to update it to be able to register for a vaccine.

“Have confidence and trust that the efforts done by the Perikatan Nasional government is to protect the people from the COVID-19 infection,” Muhyiddin said. “With the implementation of the COVID-19 vaccination, it is our hope that the pandemic situation in the country can be contained and eventually we can reduce the spread of COVID-19.”

The prime minister’s unelected government, which came to power a year ago but which has since lost majority support in parliament, according to lawmakers, is now ruling the country under a state of emergency declared by the king in mid-January because of the pandemic.

The government expects to vaccinate 80 percent of the country’s 26.5 million people in three phases through February 2022. Malaysia is under contract to receive 32 million doses from the U.S.-German partnership of Pfizer-BioNTech; 12.8 million doses from British-Swedish firm AstraZeneca; 12 million from Chinese drug maker Sinovac Biotech, 3.5 million from Chinese drug maker CanSinoBio; and 6.4 million doses of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine.

Regional efforts

In Thailand, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha and Chinese Chargé d’Affaires Yang Xin presided over the delivery of 200,000 doses of the Sinovac Biotech vaccine at Suvarnabhumi Airport on Wednesday morning. In addition, 117,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine arrived in a separate shipment in the afternoon.

“It is a historical day that we get together to take delivery of the first lot of vaccine from China as the government has tried to import vaccine all along, while the COVID-19 vaccine is in high demand worldwide,” Prayuth told reporters.

The former junta leader and his cabinet survived a no-confidence vote in parliament on Saturday that had been pushed by opposition MPs, who criticized his government’s handling of the pandemic, including its vaccine policy. 

The doses have been prioritized for medical personnel treating COVID-19 patients, including high-risk groups such as migrant workers in tourist destinations, health officials said.

Prayuth, 67, is to receive the nation’s first vaccine on Saturday – the one from AstraZeneca which has been approved for people 60 and older. He will be followed by Anutin Charnvirakul, deputy prime minister and minister of public health.

Thailand, whose population is about 70 million, expects to receive 63 million doses and vaccinate more than 30 million people by year’s end.

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An Indonesian woman receives a COVID-19 vaccine shot during a program for vendors at the Melong market in Bandung, West Java, Feb. 24, 2021. (AFP)

In Indonesia, teachers began receiving vaccinations as President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo said the country aimed to reopen schools for the next academic year. 

“Our target is by June, 5 million teachers and education workers will have completed [their vaccinations]. Therefore in July, by the time the new academic year starts, everything will be normal once more,” Jokowi said while inspecting a vaccination drive for educators at a high school in South Jakarta.

Indonesia prioritized health workers when it began offering vaccinations on Jan. 13. Teachers, along with the elderly, public servants, merchants and journalists are targeted for vaccinations in the second phase, which began on Wednesday. The government announced vaccines would be available for 38.5 million people, including 5 million for the teachers.

“Schools are one of the sectors that have not been opened until now and distance learning for too long raises a very big risk,” Education and Culture Minister Nadiem Makarim said.

In the Philippines, a Sinovac Biotech official said the first batch of 600,000 doses could arrive “this week or next.”

“We’re working very hard with our Philippine counterpart to prepare for the delivery. The product has already been prepared so we just need to finalize the procedures with the customs then we can fix the date of the flight,” Sinovac Biotech general manager Helen Yang told an online media briefing from Hong Kong on Wednesday.

Yang said half of the total shipment was being fast-tracked for release and customs procedures were being finalized.

“So hopefully we can deliver the vaccine in days,” she said.

Sinovac Biotech is the third vaccine to be authorized for emergency use by the Philippines, after Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca.

Globally, more than 112.3 million have been infected by COVID-19 and nearly 2.5 million have died, according to disease experts at U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University.

The experts reported 1.3 million infections and 35,254 deaths in Indonesia; 566,420 infections and 12,129 deaths in the Philippines; 291,774 infections and 1,088 deaths in Malaysia; and 25,692 infections and 83 deaths in Thailand.

Push for vaccinations

Dr. Christopher Lee, a former Malaysian deputy director general of health, said people should not fear the vaccines. He noted they had been approved by international regulators, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the European Medicines Agency.

“In Malaysia, our own National Pharmaceutical Regulatory Agency has also approved the Pfizer vaccine which is being rolled out now,” Lee told BenarNews.

“Another reassuring fact is: We’re now in the midst of the world’s biggest vaccination campaign in history,” he said, pointing out that more than 213 million doses have been administered across 95 countries, according to Bloomberg News.

Lee said Israel, where more than half the population has been vaccinated, has seen a marked reduction in news infections.

“All the above should provide confidence and reassurance that the vaccine is both safe and effective. I sincerely hope all Malaysians would take their shots when offered to them,” he said. “Vaccines are likely our country’s best option forward, both in terms of lives and livelihood.”

Muzliza Mustafa in Kuala Lumpur, Tia Asmara in Jakarta, Nontarat Phaicharoen in Bangkok, and Dennis Jay Santos and Jojo Rinoza in Davao and Dagupan, Philippines, contributed to this report.

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