Dr Lee Boon Chye describes the prime minister’s proposal as ‘not practical’ and ‘easier said than done’.
PETALING JAYA: Instead of mulling over mandatory vaccinations, the government should focus on speeding up immunisation for those who have registered under the National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme (PICK), says a former deputy minister.
Calling Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s proposal “easier said than done” and “not practical”, former deputy health minister Dr Lee Boon Chye said mandatory vaccinations would not work.
Muhyiddin had told the Covid-19 vaccine supply access guarantee special committee (JKJAV) last week to study making vaccinations mandatory, adding that this needed to be considered if the number of registrations for vaccinations remains low and fails to meet the government’s target for herd immunity.
He also said Putrajaya was mulling about taking action against those who were anti-vaccine.
Lee said that to make vaccinations mandatory, some form of punishment such as a fine or imprisonment must be meted out to those refusing vaccines.
“However, these anti-vaccine groups would probably justify their reasons by citing personal belief and faith. Is the government prepared to punish those who refuse just because of their personal beliefs?” he told FMT.
He said a better option would be to have an opt-out policy for the vaccination programme.
“Currently, the programme uses the opt-in method where those who wish to be vaccinated have to register.
“Opting out means every eligible resident is automatically registered for a vaccine. Those who refuse can always sign a refuse-to-vaccinate document.
“Under this system, the government just needs to focus on calling people up for vaccination based on priority. Appointments can be given one week beforehand to avoid wastage.”
Additionally, he said, the government should purchase more vaccine supplies to expedite the vaccination programme.
If needed, he said, the government must be willing to pay a higher price to obtain the vaccines. “The cost would still be less compared to the overall cost and losses of the lockdown.”
Lee urged the government to grant conditional approval of vaccines that have been used widely in other countries, such as Sinopharm and CanSino (China), Sputnik V (Russia), Covishield (India), Johnson & Johnson, and Moderna (US).
“Allow the private sector to use these approved vaccines to vaccinate based on demand. The government just needs to focus on the elderly and those with comorbidities,” he added.
Getting more vaccinated can have positive multiplier effect, says Galen
Think tank Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy also said the government should focus on vaccinating those who have registered as quickly as possible as opposed to prioritising mandatory vaccinations.
“Scoring successes in that area will have a positive multiplier effect which will encourage more people to register for vaccination,” its chief executive, Azrul Mohd Khalib, said. “That should be the right focus.”
Latest figures from JKJAV’s website showed that 12,743,918 – or more than one- third of the country’s population of 31.5 million – have registered for the vaccine.
A total of 2,503,655 people have completed the vaccination process as of Tuesday.
Azrul said it is important to consider the issue of mandatory vaccination from an ethical standpoint, stating that mandatory vaccination can be ethically justified if the threat to public health is grave.
He also pointed out that there is a risk of victimising or marginalising individuals who have valid medical reasons for not getting vaccinated.
Noting that confidence in the safety and effectiveness of Covid-19 vaccines is high, he said the penalties or costs for non-compliance must be proportionate and fair.
“Most importantly, the expected benefits of mandatory vaccination must be far greater than what is currently being done,” he said.