Herd immunity is now the foremost strategy used by governments worldwide against the Covid-19 pandemic. Life is gradually returning to normal in communities where the majority of the population is vaccinated; businesses are recovering, economic sectors are reopened, and social activities are, albeit cautiously, resuming. Herd immunity occurs when a large percentage of a community becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. To reach herd immunity, size matters. If the proportion of the population that is immune to the disease is lower than the herd immunity threshold, the disease will once again take hold, and can trigger an outbreak.
This is the reasoning behind our government’s fervent effort to vaccinate the Malaysian population against the Covid-19 virus. Lockdowns are effective, but due to their devastating effect to the economy, social life, and mental wellbeing, should only be used as a stop-gap measure imposed as a last resort. Mass vaccination remains the only meaningful solution to our current crisis.
The Penang government knows this. Which is why carrying out and speeding up the vaccination of Penangites is now its top priority. The goal is to achieve herd immunity by October so that life can return to some semblance of normalcy. One such effort is the setting up of additional Covid-19 vaccination centres (PPVs) so that more people can be vaccinated. The new PPV at the Seberang Jaya Expo Site is capable of administering 600 doses per day, while the PPV at the SP Arena can vaccinate up to 800 individuals per day.
Another strategy by the Penang government to speed up the Covid-19 vaccination programme is to set up mobile vaccination units (MVUs) which would target those living in rural or out-of-town areas. “We must reach out to unvaccinated stragglers in overlooked neighbourhoods, and plug the gap in this nationwide effort to combat Covid-19, ” said chief minister Chow Kon Yeow. These “overlooked neighbourhoods” include communities living in low-cost, low medium-cost, and People’s Housing Project (PPR) homes in the state. An outreach programme of the MVU involving old folks’ homes by the Penang Health Department (JKNPP) visited 87 homes and vaccinated 3,309 caregivers and occupants.
Furthermore, with the cooperation of the Science, Technology, and Innovation Ministry, International Trade and Industry Ministry (MITI), as well as the JKNPP, two special PPVs will be set up for economic frontliners in the manufacturing, retailing, and tourism sectors. This is a significant step towards rebuilding our economy, which has always relied heavily on manufacturing and tourism.
Starting on 5 July, the Penang government will also start mass Covid-19 screening under the Penang Saring Covid-19 programme or PSC-19 at the City Stadium. The free testing programme prioritises residents living in hotspot areas, head of households, those involved in food and parcel deliveries, hawkers and traders of essential goods as well as high-risk individuals such as senior citizens.
As Penang moves into Phase 2 of the National Recovery Plan, approximately 10 percent of its population are fully vaccinated. It is still a long way to go to reach the 80% herd immunity threshold, but with the arrival of more vaccines in the coming months, the opening of more PPVs, and as people are more confident and less hesitant about getting vaccinated, there is still hope in achieving herd immunity by October.