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Assistant Minister of Local Government and Housing Dr Annuar Rapaee. — Borneo Post Online pic
Assistant Minister of Local Government and Housing Dr Annuar Rapaee. — Borneo Post Online pic

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SIBU, Sept 5 — Assistant Minister of Local Government and Housing Dr Annuar Rapaee has called upon certain quarters to first understand the definition of herd immunity and the evolution of Covid-19, especially regarding mutations that have triggered the emergence of new variants, before making any statement meant to discredit the state government.

The coordinator of Sibu Divisional Disaster Management Committee (SDDMC) likens such allegation as ‘making a non-scientific conclusion’.

“The concept of herd immunity should not be simply judged by the theoretical figure of 70 per cent and above (in coverage).

“The key point of herd immunity is that those who have been vaccinated, or have already had infection, cannot contract and spread the disease.

“Based on the world data that we have obtained after the vaccination programme, the Covid-19 vaccines are extremely effective in preventing symptomatic disease, but less from getting rid of the disease’s transmission, which is what herd immunity is meant for.

“For that reason also, the government needs to vaccinate more people now by including teenagers,” he told The Borneo Post here via phone yesterday.

It is reported that as at August 31 this year, 1,821,499 (88.2 per cent) out of the two million people in Sarawak eligible for the Covid-19 vaccine, had completed their two doses.

According to Dr Annuar, 95 per cent of eligible vaccine recipients in Sibu Division have received both doses.

He added that for the period between August 29 and September 4, the number of new Covid-19 cases in Sarawak stood at 17,428 cases, of which 99.77 per cent were under categories 1 and 2.

He said in the same period, the percentage of cases under categories 1 and 2 in Sibu Division was at 99.78 per cent, while for categories 3, 4 and 5, which required hospitalisation, the rate was 0.22 per cent.

“This shows the success of state’s vaccination programme, where the number of severe cases has been reduced. In fact, the high rate of vaccination in Sarawak is actually a good achievement compared with other states, or even at national level.

“Also, the national figure is better than that of United States and most countries, although of slower momentum initially.

“This achievement not only reflects the number of those vaccinated but also those infected, where the severity of health implications has been greatly reduced.

“While the state has shown increase in the number of positive cases lately, this increase in number of cases in Sarawak should not overshadow the fact that that vaccination is helpful in decreasing the severity of the disease and the need for hospitalisation,” stressed Dr Annuar.

Additionally, he observed that the global thinking had shifted from the threshold of achieving herd immunity of 70 or 80 per cent, which began to look unlikely because of factors such as vaccine hesitancy, the emergence of new variants and the children yet to be vaccinated.

However, he pointed out that Sarawak would be the first state in Malaysia to vaccinate 16-17-year-olds — beginning next week.

To further support his argument, Dr Annuar quoted Stefan Flasche, a vaccine epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who had said: “Given what is known about Covid-19 so far, reaching herd immunity through vaccines alone is going to be rather unlikely. It’s time for more realistic expectations. The vaccine is an absolutely astonishing development, but it’s unlikely to completely halt the spread, so we need to think of how we can live with the virus.

“This isn’t as grim as it might sound. Even without herd immunity, the ability to vaccinate vulnerable people seems to be reducing hospitalisation and deaths from Covid-19. The disease might not disappear any time soon, but its prominence is likely to wane.”

He also quoted Shweta Bansal, a mathematical biologist at Georgetown University in Washington DC, who stated: “Herd immunity is only relevant if we have a transmission-blocking vaccine. If we don’t, then the only way to get herd immunity in the population is to give everyone the vaccine.”

Adding on, Dr Annuar, who is Nangka assemblyman, reckoned that vaccines might change human behaviours, where they perceived that they would be protected 100 per cent from the virus after completing vaccination.

“Prior to availability of vaccine, people were more careful and would take all the necessary precautions to avoid contracting the disease.”

Elaborating, he quoted Dvir Aran, a biomedical data scientist at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, who said: “The problem is that, as more people are vaccinated, they will increase their interactions, and that changes the herd-immunity equation, which relies in part on how many people are being exposed to the virus.”

In relation to all the presented global data, Dr Annuar said those making allegation about the Sarawak government having failed in its effort to achieve herd immunity, were ‘showing their ignorance’.

“I would suggest those who don’t understand herd immunity and the evolution of this virus, especially the mutations that trigger new variants, to read more before blaming the government,” he added. — Borneo Post

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