Clear policy needed to ensure no discrimination against unvaccinated

But they need frequent tests to protect others

by NUR HANANI AZMAN / pic by TMR FILE

AS MORE amenities open up for the vaccinated, social groups urge the government to formulate a clear and transparent policy to ensure those who are not vaccinated against Covid-19 are not discriminated against, while at the same time protecting public health.

Malaysians who can show they are fully vaccinated through the MySejahtera app can now enjoy privileges like dining-in at restaurants, with more amenities expected to be announced that will not be available to unvaccinated people.

This has raised concerns that the regulation separating the two groups may lead to unnecessary discrimination against people who are unwilling or unable to get vaccinated.

Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy CEO Azrul Mohd Khalib said any regulation to separate amenities for the vaccinated and the unvaccinated should be done in consultation with people who deal with those with disabilities, rare diseases, human rights and public health.

“At the moment, the position of the government is to not impose mandatory vaccination upon the general population, which is the right step to take.

“There are people who, for medical reasons, are unable to take any kind of vaccines, including for Covid-19, and would need to be surrounded by those who are vaccinated,” he told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR).

For those refusing to be vaccinated against the disease, Azrul said it will be necessary for them to regularly know their status to protect themselves, their family, loved ones and people who they are within closed environments such as work colleagues.

“People should not be denied entry or access to essential public services or offices, to places where they need to go, or opportunities such as employment in non-critical jobs due to their vaccination status.

“However, they will likely be subjected to weekly antigen/PCR testing, quarantine and other measures. It will likely be even more strict for those wishing to travel abroad or come into the country. This is accommodation that has to be made to move forward,” he said.

The Malaysian Society for Occupational Safety and Health (MSOSH) said it is worrying that unvaccinated employees may face disciplinary action by employers.

Its president Dr Shawaludin Husin said there have already been reports of such actions against employees who are not ready to be vaccinated.

“This will provoke the ongoing controversy regarding the Covid-19 vaccines.

“There will also be widespread discrimination in the employment sector, with the likelihood that a safe and healthy workplace environment will be affected,” he said in a statement.

Dr Shawaludin said any provisions cited by employers to ensure the safety of their workers should not be extended to mandatory vaccinations.

“Currently, there is no legal provision mandating the administration of the Covid-19 vaccine to any individual. Employers also do not have the power to force employees to get vaccinated,” Shawaludin said.

Citing section 24 of the Occupational Safety and Health Act 1994, Shawaludin said it cannot be used to make vaccination mandatory in the workplace as working and making a living is a human right.

“MSOSH is concerned that the move by employers or the government to force workers to be vaccinated will exacerbate the situation and in turn adversely affects the national immunisation programme.”

The Ministry of Health is likely to come up with a national testing policy to take into account individuals refusing Covid-19 vaccines.

Its Minister Khairy Jamaluddin Abu Bakar said in the event there are still people who voluntarily refuse to be vaccinated and the government is not mandating vaccination, one of the things that is being considered is a national testing strategy.

Universiti Putra Malaysia epidemiologist Associate Professor Dr Malina Osman sees a national testing policy would prevent possible infections or new clusters and earlier containment if positive.

She said the appropriate mechanisms on how to implement it, as well as financial allocation to support this new policy, should be clarified.

“The implementation is possible for those in any government sectors, work settings or any institution; but for the public, perhaps the application is relevant if the non-vaccinated person wishes to be at public areas, meet someone who is at risk or if they are the one who sit as volunteer frontliners.

“So, instead of showing a fully vaccinated digital certificate, they should show the latest screening test performed,” she told TMR.

Meanwhile, the government has set a ceiling price of RM16 (wholesale) and RM19.90 (retail) for Covid-19 self-test kits effective Sept 5. At present, there are 11 brands of Covid-19 self-test kits that have been approved by the ministry for public use.

Azrul said having a ceiling price is beneficial for businesses that anticipate they will need to regularly test their workers, and ensure that they are able to anticipate and manage their costs accordingly.

He said for individuals who work in customer-facing roles such as cashiers, service counters, healthcare workers, police officers, flight personnel and security guards, as well as those who work in large or vulnerable groups such as factory workers and aged care homes, regular testing will be part of the daily work routine.

“Ordinary people who have lower risk and exposure generally, especially if they follow standard operating procedures, will not really be affected by the ceiling price, unless they are wanting to test themselves regularly. For those in the bottom 40% category, especially if they are in roles which put them at risk of infection such as hospital support services, their testing needs should be fully subsidised,” he added.

Dr Malina welcomes the decision and am very much grateful for the cheaper and affordable price.

“I have talked on this issue a few times last year, hoping the responsible agencies during that time would decide on this issue as screening tests are crucial during this pandemic,” she said.