LETTER | Educate the public on AstraZeneca vaccine

Dr Song Beng Kah


LETTER | Despite the negative feedback from the general public regarding the side-effects of AstraZeneca vaccine, we received good news that the first batch of 268,000 AstraZeneca vaccine shots was all taken up within three and a half hours by people from Kuala Lumpur and Selangor.

The Covid-19 Vaccine Candidate Selection Sub-Committee (JKKPCV) should know the reasons why we purchased the AstraZeneca vaccine: It recorded a 79 percent efficacy at preventing Covid-19 based on an AstraZeneca’s interim analysis, plus other scientific evidence supporting real-world vaccination effectiveness in countries around the world.

From the perspective of science, the decision to administer the AstraZeneca vaccine is sound. The Ministry of Health should have taken this opportunity to educate the public, rather than pull back the AstraZeneca due to public pressure.

Below are the reasons why AstraZeneca jab for over-60s is scientifically sound:

1. Statistics: According to research published in the journal BMJ (formerly named British Medical Journal) on April 8, 2021, as well as statistics from the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and European Medicines Agency (EMA), the serious blood-clotting condition is very rare (probability being 0.000004), which is four in a million. The possible death rate being one in a million. More importantly, EMA reported that out of 30,000 people above 60, the number of lives saved from the virus due to AstraZeneca vaccination is 309, with 1.9 people possibly developing blood clot. Up to now, only Denmark prohibits the use of AstraZeneca, while the other 91 countries went ahead with the vaccine.

With a population of 32 million and the current death toll at 1,533 due to Covid-19, the math works out to be 48 death cases in a million (0.000048), while the death rate among the Covid-19 patients is 3694 in a million (0.003694) - total number of patients as of May 3 is 415,012.

Comparing these figures, the possible death rate of 0.000001 due to the AstraZeneca is almost negligible. The bigger concerns should be on the death rate due to the pandemic, not due to the side-effects of the vaccine.

2. Vaccine choice: Some may say that scientists always talk about statistics but if it is your family member who has died due to AstraZeneca, there is no statistics that can revive a life. The fact is, the whole world is currently rushing to grab various vaccines through political networking and better deals, when the supply of vaccines is already limited. Worse of all, the production of made-in-India vaccines (Covishield and Covaxin) has been seriously affected due to the country’s Covid-19 tsunami.

The choice that Malaysia is left with is, either let the virus spread through the population unscrupulously and be prepared for an infection rate of more than a hundred times; or we accept and administer the AstraZeneca vaccine, and allow people over 60 to be protected.

3. Highly urgent: We don’t have much time. In the past two months (Feb 24 to April 30), the number of administered vaccines was 1,421,664, which is equivalent to an average of 637,500 doses administered per month. Assuming every person needs two doses of vaccine, we would need about 80 months to achieve the targeted 80 percent of the country population (26 million) getting vaccinated. Unless the government could increase the number of jabs per day, we will need to wait for at least another five or six years before achieving the 80 percent target.

The unscientific and overly-worried mentality should be eradicated, which otherwise would make the vaccination rate slower in Malaysia. And people should leave the question about the effectiveness of vaccines against the new mutant lines to the scientists to develop newer vaccines to combat the pandemic.

More importantly, the MOH should be more resilient against public pressure (to withdraw the AstraZeneca vaccination), and play a more proactive role in educating the public on the vaccine. We can learn from Singapore on how they inform the public about the government policies - through TV advertisements, posters, dramas etc., targeting all levels of people.

Let science prevail, not emotion, pseudoscience or fake news.

Dr SONG BENG KAH is from the School of Science, Monash University Malaysia.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.