Amid scepticism, local doctors and professors warn that risks of Covid-19 outweigh vaccines'

Amid scepticism, local doctors and professors warn that risks of Covid-19 outweigh vaccines'
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KUALA LUMPUR (Jan 5): A group of 20 local doctors, professors and concerned individuals are imploring Malaysians to get vaccinated against Covid-19, saying the risks of the disease far outweigh those of the vaccines.

In a statement, the group said a safe vaccine does not mean it is completely free from side effects or adverse events, but vaccines produce "overwhelmingly greater benefits to individuals and society than the risks due to adverse reactions".

"It is because of vaccines that infectious diseases such as polio and measles have been largely eliminated in many countries, or totally eradicated as is the case with smallpox," they said.

They also likened those who questioned the safety of vaccines and implicitly called upon people to not be immunised, even with vaccines approved by regulators, to anti-vaxxers who reject the MMR vaccine on the already-debunked claim that it causes autism.

"Let us be clear. Any approved Covid-19 vaccine is given the greenlight because regulators determine, based on review of clinical trial evidence and data, that it is safe and effective, and carries significantly more benefits than risks. Arguably, it is far more harmful to one’s health to contract Covid-19 than to take an approved vaccine for the disease," they said.

"The National Pharmaceutical Regulatory Agency (NPRA) uses a rigorous and thorough process in evaluating all vaccines and medicines for use in Malaysia. The critical aspects of a vaccine that we should be concerned with, which have been entrusted to the NPRA, are its efficacy and safety," they added.

"Critics are free to call for more data and transparency related to all aspects of Covid-19 vaccines. However, such criticism should not be clouded with anti-capitalist sentiment and political ideology," they said.

The group warned that Covid-19 "is not a simple flu or respiratory illness".

"While most people who are infected recover quickly, some patients can have symptoms lasting for weeks, or even months after recovery from acute illness, according to the United States’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Even people with mild Covid-19 can experience persistent or late symptoms. The most commonly reported long-term symptoms are fatigue, cough, joint and chest pain, among others. Other reported long-term symptoms include difficulty with thinking and concentration (known as 'brain fog'), depression, and muscle pain.

"Yet more serious long-term complications have also been reported, though these appear to be less common. These include inflammation of the heart muscle, lung function abnormalities, acute kidney injury, dermatologic conditions like rash and hair loss, and neurological conditions like smell and taste problems and sleep issues. Even severe psychotic symptoms have been reported in a small number of Covid-19 patients in the US, UK, and Spain, who had not previously experienced mental health problems," they said.

According to the group, a vaccine is one way to end the acute phase of the pandemic in Malaysia as the death toll from Covid-19, which has already claimed the lives of more than 500 people here, is expected to continue rising in 2021.

The group urged vulnerable groups such as those aged 60 years and above, as well as younger folk with underlying conditions to get immunised as they are at higher risk of developing a more severe form of Covid-19 and dying from the disease.

"According to the Institute for Clinical Research, 87% of reported Covid-19 deaths in Malaysia had at least one underlying health condition, based on 335 Covid-19 deaths analysed as of Nov 22. Nearly two-thirds of Covid-19 victims were aged 60 years and above. The mortality rate for people aged 70 years and above is about 9% to 10%, which is substantial.

"About 61% of Covid-19 fatalities in Malaysia had high blood pressure, followed by diabetes (41%), heart disease (24%), and high cholesterol (19%). There is high prevalence of non-communicable diseases in the adult population: diabetes (18%), hypertension (30%), and high cholesterol (38%), according to the National Health and Morbidity Survey 2019. This means that a large number of young and middle-aged people in Malaysia are at risk of developing severe Covid-19 disease and potentially dying from it," they said.

They also highlighted that the percentage of people in the moderate to severe stages 3 to 5 have increased to 11% from 7%. "For this group of patients, the risk of ventilation and death is very real."

Debunking fear-mongering claims and pseudoscience attacking the messenger RNA (mRNA) technology behind the vaccine, they said while the speed of the vaccine development is unprecedented, the mRNA technology has been around since the early 2000s, while the early proof-of-concept of using gene-based therapeutics to produce the proteins necessary to combat disease was published back in 1990.

"mRNA and vector-based therapies have actually been used for nearly a decade to treat people with cancer, inherited immunodeficiencies, and metabolic, eye, and neuro-muscular diseases.

"mRNA vaccines do not affect human DNA. The mRNA never enters the nucleus of the cell, where our DNA (genetic material) is kept. The vaccine simply contains instructions to the cell to make a harmless piece of the spike protein on the virus that causes Covid-19. The immune system then attacks this new protein; more importantly, our immune system will remember how it looks like. The vaccine’s mRNA instructions are broken down and later disposed of. When the coronavirus enters our body, our immune system now recognises the spike protein and launches an attack like it did previously, destroying the virus before it can take hold, replicate, and make us sick," they said.

The group cautioned that these claims could turn Malaysians off all Covid-19 vaccines entirely, as some would not be able to differentiate between one type of vaccine with another.