Long wait over as vaccine reaches Brunei shores

Izah Azahari

With the National Vaccination Programme set to begin in phases tomorrow, members of the local media posed several questions during the Ministry of Health’s press conference yesterday at the Al-‘Afiah Hall.

Minister of Health Dato Seri Setia Dr Haji Mohd Isham bin Haji Jaafar said, “There will be about 24,000 doses in the shipment for the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine arriving today.

“The ministry is already in possession of some 52,000 doses of the Sinopharm vaccine, while the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Novavax COVID-19 vaccines are expected at a later date.”

He added, “There are certain criteria for eligibility on certain vaccines, so individuals ineligible for a certain vaccine will be diverted to the next vaccine available.”

Although it has not been made official yet, the minister said if Bruneians are to travel abroad, they will need a full dose of vaccine.

“For that to be effective, it has to be 14 days after the second dose for an individual to be reasonably protected.”

Deputy Permanent Secretary (Professional) at the Ministry of Health Dr Haji Zulaidi bin Haji Abdul Latif meanwhile said, “After the arrival of the first batch of vaccine for Phase 1, the vaccine rollout for Phases 2 and 3 will depend on the next shipment, which is unfortunately out of the ministry’s control, but the ministry is expecting it within the next couple of weeks or months, as there will be a continuous shipment.

“Through the bilateral agreements, the first batch will be through the COVAX Facility and so on. The public is asked to be patient, as the ministry has all of these lined up, and hopefully everything will fall into place.”

On the alleged deaths following vaccination for COVID-19, the minister explained, “There are no deaths associated with the vaccine, from the studies on the Phase 3 trials of the two vaccines. To associate the deaths with the vaccines is quite hard to do, and so far there’s no evidence to suggest that.

“So we can be sure they are safe, Insya Allah, as the best to our knowledge, and once we roll out our programme here, we’ll be doing a post-market surveillance.

“In the BruHealth app there’s a section where you can fill in the data if you are not feeling well after being vaccinated. That will help us in continuing to monitor the safety and efficacy of the vaccine.”

When asked on whether the public should be concerned with the number of import cases detected in the country, he said, all of these import cases are mainly essential travellers to the sultanate, dealing with our industries and the like, who were swabbed prior to entry and swabbed again upon arrival.

“If the standard operating procedures (SOPs) are followed through, Insya Allah, I don’t think we should worry, because the border controls, especially for air travel, are quite good.

“Our concern, of course, are the mouse trails (jalan tikus) which are used to smuggle goods. That’s the main concern, but so far, Alhamdulillah, it’s well controlled and we are also doing our surveillance in the community.

“During the first four weeks for National Day, our ministry swabbed almost everyone who went to hospital because of illness. They are still carrying out random sampling at clinics, to detect any sporadic evidence of community spread,” he said.

Prior to ending the press conference, the minister said, “Although a person is vaccinated, they must still maintain their cleanliness and hygiene, in addition to using a mask, especially in areas where the pandemic is quite rampant, if they are to go abroad.

“The vaccine studies show that although it protects you from getting very ill, going into the ICU or from death, it doesn’t mean that you won’t get the virus. You can still get the virus after vaccination, but you won’t be as ill as those who are not vaccinated. That precaution must be remembered.”