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YOURSAY | Our failure in containing the virulent S African Beta strain

YOURSAY | 'Was it a problem with our border control or inapt quarantine?'

Beta variant from South Africa spreading fast - Health DG

Dr Raman Letchumanan: Everybody cries vaccination, vaccination, vaccination. Health director-general (DG) Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah, of all persons, makes the same rallying call.

Who are you talking to? Yet when a question is asked, you sidestepped it.

Is your job only to announce the severity of the variants? Why not just leave it to the Institute of Medical Research experts who do the identification of the variants. They will do a better job of clarifying to the public.

And why is Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Khairy Jamaluddin handling the vaccination process? Is he a medical expert or a scientist? He is just a politician, that too doing a lousy job.

The Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) even blasted him, telling him that 8,000 general practitioners are ready to vaccinate and have been waiting since March. Why is Khairy dealing with doctors, isn't that your job or that of the Health Ministry?

Now you are even scared to comment on the vaccination process, despite that you are the Health DG. Khairy is only interested in more mega vaccination centres even though that approach has spectacularly failed.

He is also obsessed with the RM70 million sophisticated IT systems that failed the moment it handled just a million cases. Now appointments are being screwed up, people offered venues in faraway places.

Is Khairy going to have a say on when Duopharma will get approval for its Sputnik vaccine which has got approval as its supplier here? Is there going to be a contest between Duopharma and Pharmaniaga on who controls the vaccine supply chain while all of us are kept waiting? Is the NPRA (National Pharmaceutical Regulatory Agency) under the Health Ministry or the Science, Technology and Innovation Ministry?

We just witnessed the Fire and Rescue Department and a minister proudly spraying disinfectants all over, with money literally down the drain. Didn't the Health Ministry advise them, does it take outsiders to point out their foolishness?

Incompetence is everywhere but letting different politicians without expertise or not within their portfolio managing Covid-19 is really messing things up. Is anybody in Malaysia in charge during this Covid-19 pandemic?

Yet, you remind us every day to get vaccinated. Do you expect vaccines to fall from the sky?

The way things are going, the community will get herd immunity from widespread infections rather than from vaccines. Of course, at a cost of heavy casualty that could be prevented if you people act collectively with some common sense.

But then at the right time in the future, you all will claim unashamedly that the Perikatan Nasional (PN) government has singlehandedly brought the pandemic under control.

ManOnTheStreet: "Asked if the National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme (NIP) will be tweaked given the spread of the Beta variant, Noor Hisham sidestepped the question."

And why, might I ask, are you, Mr DG, avoiding a valid and important question? Is there not a strategy to handle this?

Are we not reconsidering a change in the vaccine profile? Are there therapeutic options that can be offered in the future? How can we take further steps so no further cases come in? Have we identified our failures so we can correct them?

So many unanswered questions. Esteemed DG, sir, if I may ask a silly question: How did these strains get through our "tight" border control?

I remember as early as May 2020, then August and September 2020, you were repeatedly emphasising the importance of tight border control. If we did that, and our quarantines were effective, why are we still getting all these imported variants?

Where was the failure? Who was accountable? Was it a problem with border control, health officers at the borders or inapt quarantine?

I really don't want to disturb a busy man such as yourself unnecessarily, but you need to go beyond reporting this and that. You need to tell us why it happened and how, so we will not repeat the same mistakes again and again.

The root cause is one of the basics of problem-solving, sir! The past year we have learnt that we cannot depend on the politician. You are the top health technocrat, we need to believe that you have solutions to the problem and that dumb mistakes will not be made time and again.

Have you a team put together to investigate why these variants managed to sneak into the country? How can we stop this from recurring if you have not identified the leaks?

Your statements certainly did not reveal much except the same old "increase testing, contact tracing, isolating cases, MCO" story. It does not at all inspire confidence in even the person on the street.

You have to "up your game" and be more accountable to us the rakyat, sir. It’s not enough to just report the data. We need to see your solutions. Or is this all rakyat's fault for not following the SOP (standard operating procedure)?

Betul Malu Bukan Maluapa: Before it was the MCO musical chair and now it is Covid-19 Beta variant chair.

Noor Hisham, we are already scared even with Covid-19 and the slow vaccination rollout in Malaysia. Now you are telling Malaysians that the AstraZeneca vaccine has low efficacy against the Beta variant strains.

In Singapore, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loon is telling Singaporeans that anyone above 60 years old can just walk into any vaccination centre to be vaccinated.

Under Khairy, the vaccination process is too slow. Can you put politics aside and expedite the programme by allowing registered clinics with trained GP to handle the vaccination as soon as possible?

Solo: This latest outbreak is fuelled by the gathering of unvaccinated people over the Raya festival.

We had warned at that time that such activities will lead to an outbreak. The South African variant is also believed to be more infectious and is the focus of much activity compared to the other variants.

I am still reading the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) paper of March 2021 to understand the effects of the South African variant against the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Like I said previously, there were only 1,400 participants, compared to the usual 20,000-40,000 in other vaccine studies. The variant was present at the end of the study, so they made some conclusions based on projections as they did not have enough numbers for some secondary goals.

They took 25 samples and tested the neutralising antibody effect against the D614G (initial mutation) and B1351 (South Africa variant) cases. This is where they report the 10 percent efficacy rate.

They also report no death or cases from the B1351 that required hospitalisation. This is a strange anomaly that still needs explanation.

They also checked the T cell immunity against the B1351 on some samples and concluded the epitopes of these variants were 90 percent preserved, so the T cell immunity is very good and presumably prevented hospitalisation and death. Immunity is by antibody and T cells. Some believe the latter is more important.

All the vaccines seem to work against the variants to prevent hospitalisation and death. Don’t hesitate, vaccinate.

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