Supply of Influenza A vaccines, medications adequate, says health minister

The outbreak causes only mild cold to ordinary people, but can lead to severe infections in high-risk groups such as children and the elderly

by AFIQ AZIZ/ pic by RAZAK GHAZALI

VACCINES and medicine stocks for Influenza A are sufficient so far, said Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad (picture).

According to Dr Dzulkefly, last year alone, the Health Ministry (MoH) imported about 600,000 doses of vaccines, excluding the additional of 92,700 doses purchased on Dec 2, 2018.

He said in the wake of rising Influenza A cases around the country that could lead to the shortage of vaccine supply, another 16,800 doses of vaccines will be brought in by the MoH.

“As for the government, we do have stockpiles, and it is adequate.

“Perhaps for private clinics, they do not keep stockpiles, so when people rush to them due to the alerting situation we are having now, this will lead to shortage of stocks on their side,” Dr Dzulkefly said in a press conference after delivering the New Year message to the ministry’s officers in Putrajaya yesterday.

According to Dr Dzulkefly, Pharmaniaga Bhd — the largest medical distributor in Malaysia — is also keeping a three-month stock of Influenza A vaccines.

Influenza A, also known as H1N1, is an infection with flu symptoms such as fever, sore throat, cough, headache, muscle and joint pain, and fatigue.

The outbreak caused by seasonal influenza virus only causes mild cold to ordinary people, but can lead to severe infections in highrisk groups such as children, the elderly, pregnant women and those with chronic illnesses.

On Saturday, a daily newspaper reported that one of twin sisters in Temerloh, Pahang, succumbed to the virus, while another one is still fighting for her life.

Schools were also shut down in Kulai district, Johor, due to the virus.

Influenza cases have also been reported in other parts of the country, striking 53 students from 24 primary schools in Penang.

The latest case reported involved 20 students and a teacher in Cyberjaya, two siblings in Klang and one Umno campaigner for the Kimanis parliamentary by-election in Sabah.

Besides vaccine, Dr Dzulkefly also said the ministry has already approved permit to buy an additional one million stocks of Tamiflu — an antiviral medication in treating influenza virus.

Currently, five suppliers of Tamiflu have registered with the ministry.

“This alternative supplies will provide up to one million capsules of Tamiflu for the use of 100,000 patients.

“Private practitioners can apply this special permit from the health DG office and approval could be obtained within the same day,” Dr Dzulkefly said.

When asked if the government will monitor any price spike of the medicine and vaccine by private clinics, Dr Dzulkefly said the ministry has no control over the matter.

For the public sector, he assured that there will be no price hikes arising from the situation.

According to the MoH Deputy Secretary General Datuk Dr Christopher Lee, taking Tamiflu unnecessarily will create resistance to individual’s body.

He explained that only three groups are deemed important to take Tamiflu — individuals who have flu and are 65 years old with existing complications such as heart failure and diabetes; the ones who suffer prolonged flu for more than two days and with higher fever; and those who have already shown clear symptoms of Influenza A.

“For a majority of us, about 95% to 98%, the flu, even if it is the flu ‘A’, it should be recovered within one to two days without Tamiflu.

“So if we take it too much, it will create high resistance to our body and (it will) become the main antiviral for the flu.

“If we mess this up again, we could have another same flu season next year. That is why it is vital for people to consult doctors on this, as we have also advised the practitioners to be prudent about it,” Dr Lee said.