Private vaccinations crucial to reopening Malaysia’s economy

Datuk Dr Kuljit Singh, President of Association of Private Hospitals Malaysia, said private hospitals are ready to boost vaccinations, especially for economic frontliners

“Private hospitals can help to enhance the vaccination programme and widen the vaccination coverage to more people,” said Datuk Dr Kuljit Singh, President of Association of Private Hospitals Malaysia. This was in response to the Malaysian authorities’ announcement earlier April 2021, that Malaysia’s private hospitals will be involved starting Phase 2 of the nation’s inoculation drive.

Malaysia targets to have 70% of its 32 million population vaccinated by end December 2021. In Phase 1, which began in February, around 500,000 frontliners such as public and private healthcare personnel, essential services, defence and security personnel, are to be vaccinated. As of mid-April 2021, roughly 425,000 of them have been fully vaccinated with two shots. In Phase 2 which started 19 April, the vaccination programme is expanded to another 9.4 million people, made up of seniors above 60 years, people with chronic diseases such as heart diseases or diabetes, and people with disabilities. Phase 3 is scheduled to start in May, for all adults above 18 years, with priority given to those in more affected regions.

Maximising access to vaccines

In the current arrangement, the Government will distribute free vaccines – from Pfizer-BioNTech and Sinovac – to private hospitals for administering. The 203 private hospitals in Malaysia can register with the government to participate in vaccinations. As of 20 April, some 60 private hospitals are standing ready to support the government in reaching its inoculation targets, pending certain details which should be sorted out soon, said Dr Singh. “We have already done vaccinations for private healthcare workers, and so we know what to do”, he said. “The capability and capacity is there; we can start anytime once the details are finalised.”

Once the exercise begins, what is critical for private hospitals would be a smooth supply chain, with sufficient vaccine doses to be administered in each site, noted Dr Singh. “If the amount of vaccines distributed to private hospitals is restricted or limited, then the involvement of private hospitals will not be effective,” he said.

As Medical Director at Prince Court Medical Centre, Dr Singh added that physical kiosks have been set up at the premises, where staff are assigned to help those eligible to register for vaccinations and help boost take-up rates, though people are not able to select the vaccination site or type of vaccine they will get. While registration can be done online or via a mobile app, there are some who are not tech-savvy and would appreciate the help.

Next up: private vaccinations

By mid-year, private hospitals are aiming to buy their own vaccines (limited to those approved by Malaysia’s National Pharmaceutical Regulatory Agency) directly from the vaccine manufacturers, to complement those procured by the government and further ramp up the speed of vaccinations. This is so as to get the vaccines to the economic frontliners as soon as possible, which is crucial for the country’s economy, Dr Singh emphasised. According to the government’s vaccine schedule, these frontliners, who are mostly younger, will be the last to get vaccinated. “However, their businesses generate income for the country, and they should be able to get vaccinated earlier, so the economy can reopen,” said Dr Singh.

A larger issue is of obtaining sufficient vaccines, which are in short supply worldwide. To resolve this issue, Dr Kuljit noted at a panel discussion earlier this month that the government and private sector must work together on resource optimisation, and also private hospitals need to start making orders to vaccines manufacturers right now. “Maybe we are facing a global shortage, but we anticipate many countries and suppliers coming out with vaccines by the middle of the year, so we want to start moving now,” Dr Kuljit said.

There are also other issues such as indemnification (in the case of adverse events arising from vaccinations), which are to be looked into for private hospitals’ involvement in national vaccine programmes. Dr Kuljit will be joining other heads of private hospital associations from ASEAN and India at the webinar, “Efficient COVID vaccination rollout in ASEAN”, to dive into these issues.

(Cover image: Dr Kuljit Singh with Ms Cindy Choe, CEO, at one of the vaccination kiosks located at Prince Court Medical Centre.)

Be sure to join Dr Kuljit at the webinar on 28 April – click here now to register.