Brunei Darussalam aims to vaccinate 70 per cent of its population by 2021 end through three phases Associate Specialist and Head of the Disease Control Division at the Ministry of Health (MoH) Dr Justin Wong said at a presentation on COVID-19 prevention and vaccine at a forum entitled ‘Sunnah Diet’ held in conjunction with the Knowledge Convention 2020 yesterday.
Dr Wong said, Phase 1 is estimated to start in the second quarter of this year with priority for frontliners and high-risk individuals. The second phase, estimated to start in the second or third quarter of the year, will be for individuals at moderate risk and other essential workers.
The third phase, estimated to be in the third or fourth quarter of the year, is for the public.
“The COVID-19 vaccine will be distributed over several months. Not all individuals will be vaccinated immediately. This is because there is a limited supply of the vaccine. Many countries do not have sufficient supply of vaccine to inoculate the entire population in 2021.
Therefore it is important for the vulnerable to be vaccinated first,” he said.
Dr Wong said frontliners like those working at the National Isolation Centre, airport and land control posts as well as high risk individuals such senior citizens and those with chronic diseases including heart and lung problems, diabetes and obesity, will be given priority in the first and second phases.
“The COVID-19 vaccine is important, especially for senior citizens and individuals who have chronic diseases because they are more at risk. Once a sufficient supply of approved vaccine is available, the public will be vaccinated.
“The vaccine is an easy, safe and effective approach to protect individuals from infectious diseases. Vaccine safety is a priority for the MoH. Individuals who are vaccinated will not only safeguard themselves, but also their family and the public. Those eligible and do not want to be vaccinated can expose themselves and their family to the risk of contracting COVID-19,” he said.
In ensuring that the vaccine is safe, Dr Wong revealed the assessment and selection process for the COVID-19 vaccine in the country is carried out by the COVID-19 Vaccine Technical Committee, comprising doctors, scientists and pharmacists from specialised fields.
The assessment of vaccines began in mid-2020. The committee has conducted assessments such as vaccine safety and efficacy, as well as ensuring the identity, strength, quality and originality of the product comply with established specifications, he said adding that the committee’s investigation uses data and information obtained from scientific journals, media reports and bilateral discussions with vaccine companies.
Dr Wong also outlined numerous factors in the assessment, which include the quality of data, effectiveness and safety, type of vaccine technology, the dosage required for immunity, vaccine resistance, contradictions, method of administering the vaccine, registration and pre-qualification of the Emergency Use Authorisation from the World Health Organization (WHO) and medical authorities in other countries (such as US FDA, UK MHRA, EMA) and vaccine accessibility.
He noted that Brunei Darussalam was able to control the spread of COVID-19 in the first wave. However, it is not impossible that the second, third or fourth wave may occur, Dr Wong said.
Thus, he said, the best long-term solution is having an extensive vaccination programme to achieve herd immunity.
“Vaccines work by training and stimulating the body’s immune system to identify and combat specific viruses in the future. In the event of a future infection, the body’s immune system will immediately provide antibodies to destroy the virus to prevent the disease,” Dr Wong said.
He stressed, “It is of upmost importance to be vaccinated, because with an effective vaccine, you can strengthen your immune system, and eventually control and stop the spread of the virus and protect the community.”
On the possible side effects of the COVID-19 vaccines, he said, “The monitoring system has shown that there is a lower rate of serious adverse events (SAE) compared to other medical procedures, such an allergy to antibiotics. The majority of the adverse events are mild and temporary. The common side effects are feeling sick, pain and swelling in the area of injection, dizziness, muscle and joint ache, and fatigue.”
Dr Wong said scientists are trying hard to produce a safe and effective vaccine to protect people from COVID-19.
Deputy Permanent Secretary (Policy and Management) at the MoH Haji Maswadi bin Haji Mohsin, the public and health professionals also attended the talk at The Airport Mall.