KUALA LUMPUR: Parents in Malaysia are hurriedly seeking influenza vaccines for their children amid fears of an outbreak in the community, but their efforts have been hampered by depleted stocks in the clinics and hospitals.
Those interviewed by CNA have expressed concern over long waiting lists, even as the health ministry is stepping up efforts to replenish the stocks.
“I have literally walked in and out of 15 different clinics,” said Ms Shree Devi, a makeup artist.
The mother of a six-month-old and a three-year-old said she has been on the hunt since last week.
“Initially, I was calling to make appointments, but as I realised that most clinics were running out, I began driving my children from one pediatric clinic to another in hope that I would be able to walk into one that has a couple of shots left,” she recounted on Tuesday (Jan 14).
After speaking to her friend, who is a child specialist at a private hospital in Kuala Lumpur, she decided to contact her regular clinic to be put on the waiting list.
Recent reports that two children have died in Johor and Selangor have sparked fears of an influenza outbreak. This was despite subsequent clarification from the authorities that the child who died in Johor was tested negative for the virus, while the case in Selangor was still being investigated.
Similarly, Ms Siti Illana Rahmat from Selangor said she has put herself on the waiting list in seven different clinics.
“I did this so that whichever clinic gets the vaccine first would be able to give my baby the vaccine,” said the mother of a one-year-old girl.
She began to grow desperate when her daughter showed flu-like symptoms.
“It started with just sneezing and then it developed to the full-blown flu followed by a cough. My husband and I were terrified. But God willing, it was a regular flu and not influenza," she said.
However, a nurse from a government clinic has advised that her child be vaccinated quickly.
Baby and Beyond Clinic Publika told CNA on Tuesday that its waiting list has 90 children on it.
“Our flu vaccine is completely out of stock now. We have of course ordered for the next batch of vaccines but at the moment we are unsure of the delivery time frame,” said a staff member who did not want to be named.
SITUATION UNDER CONTROL, SAYS HEALTH MINISTRY
On Dec 31, the authorities said there has been a slight increase in influenza-like illness (ILI) and Severe Acute Respiratory Infection (SARI) cases since the middle of the month.
In a statement on Tuesday, Dr Noor Hisham said although there has been an increase in ILI in states like Johor, Perak and Penang, the situation was under control.
“The demand for the vaccine is found to have increased rapidly since the end of 2019 to the start of 2020. Thus far, suppliers have distributed 40,000 doses of the influenza vaccine to private hospitals and clinics as of Jan 7,” he said, noting that the increased demand has depleted suppliers’ stocks.
Members of the public who would like to get vaccinated will need to seek the services from private hospitals and clinics, he said, as the vaccine supplies in government facilities were intended for frontline staff who are faced with the virus on a daily basis.
Dr Noor Hisham noted that there are six different influenza vaccines currently registered under the Drug Control Authority.
A total of 638,388 doses for all six vaccines combined were brought into Malaysia last year, said the director-general. Of this, only 10 per cent was supplied to Government Health Clinics, he said.
Given the shortage, Dr Noor Hisham said his ministry has engaged a separate supplier to bring in 99,470 doses of the influenza vaccine this month.
“We have shared the contact details of the (additional) supplier with all the private clinics and hospitals and now the communication and the transaction would be between those two parties,” said a health ministry spokesperson when asked by CNA on Wednesday.
Despite these efforts, some clinics were uncertain about when they would be able to restock.
Tiny Tots Children Specialist Clinic said it has been turning down patients for close to a week.
“Orders (for the vaccines) have been placed but I don’t think we can tell when we will get the vaccines into the clinic,” said the clinic’s receptionist who did not want to be named.