Vaccine: Is this the Dawn of Post-COVID-19?

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It has been over a year since the world was alerted to the novella-coronavirus that we know as COVID-19 in December 2019. Since then, we have adjusted to a lot of new practises by wearing masks, sanitising and even working and learning remotely while so many industries are forced to move at a snail pace. The pandemic has dampened motivation and will among the people and the news of vaccine is seen as a hope to return to the life that we knew.

Malaysia announced that it had agreed to purchase 12.8 million doses of the vaccine in November 2020 and expects to receive the first batch of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in February 2021. Health Minister Adham Baba said the country has reached an agreement with AstraZeneca on the procurement of vaccines in mid-December 2020 and said it would be enough to vaccinate 20% of the 32 million Malaysians.

Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin said that the government is planning to buy more COVID-19 vaccines to immunise as many as 70% of the population. “As for Malaysia, we have already got 30%. I have instructed Datuk Seri Adham Baba along with Khairy Jamaluddin Abu Bakar (Minister of Science, Technology, and Innovation) to negotiate and increase it from 30-60% or 70%,” he said in a statement.

Malaysia has actively reached out to 10 vaccine companies in phase III clinical trials, while also initiating the first COVID-19 vaccine trial in December 2020 as part of a government-to-government agreement with China. It will be a Phase III trial of a vaccine candidate developed by the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences Institute of Medical Biology. Malaysia signed an MOU with China in October 2020 to allow priority access to COVID-19 vaccines produced by China.

However, medical analysts cautioned that vaccinations might give people a false sense of security that masks are no longer needed. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

It is reported that the duration of vaccine immunity is unclear, and this is one of the many factors. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) needs a minimum of two months of safety and efficacy data after completion of the emergency use authorisation vaccination regimen. When vaccination programmes are initiated, the duration of vaccine coverage has yet to be determined and will be tracked down. The good news is that the memory cells of our immune system, which recognises infections and mount an immune response, have persisted in some COVID-19 infected patients for more than six months.

Further recognising this virus and the effectiveness of the vaccine, we must continue to adopt public health initiatives aimed at minimising coronavirus exposure, such as wearing a mask, washing hands and maintaining social distancing.

With vaccines made available, new guidelines for tourism and hospitality to maintain safety could be initiated too. In December 2020, Singapore Airlines (SIA) began trials on a new certificate for digital health verification app created by the International Air Transport Association (IATA). The first of its kind among major airlines, the app helps verify the COVID-19 test results and vaccine information from a passenger; it is in a bid to promote the return of air travel affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

At the time of writing this report, more than 150 potential vaccines have been produced and tested worldwide to avoid the COVID-19 pandemic, with 48 in clinical trials, according to WHO. Thus far, Malaysia has reached over 100,000 active infections and recorded over 1,000 daily new positive cases with little decline in numbers as of date. Therefore, it is important to still adhere to all SOPs in place.