BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN — Brunei is aiming to inoculate at least 70 percent of its population against COVID-19, the health minister said on Thursday.

Asked about the government’s vaccine rollout plan during a press briefing, YB Dato Seri Setia Dr Hj Md Isham Hj Jaafar said the ministry wants 70 to 80 percent of the population to be vaccinated.

World Health Organization experts have suggested a 65 to 70 percent vaccine coverage to achieve herd immunity against COVID-19.

Brunei last year signed up for the COVAX vaccine access plan, co-led by the WHO, which will provide vaccine coverage for 50 percent of the population.

“We are also in bilateral discussions with vaccine manufacturers outside of COVAX to acquire the remaining amount of vaccines,” the minister said.

YB Dato Dr Hj Md Isham said that MoH has independently procured the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine to cover an additional five percent of the population.

Developed by scientists at Oxford University and manufactured by pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca, the vaccine is likely to be the most widely-used in the UK because it poses fewer logistical challenges around storage and distribution compared to other vaccines.

The Oxford vaccine is also the first to publish full peer-reviewed efficacy results, which show an overall efficacy of 70% in protecting against symptomatic COVID-19.

While Brunei’s first delivery of vaccines is expected in the second quarter of 2021, the health minister said there is no rush to stockpile vaccines as the country’s COVID situation is under control, unlike other parts of the world that are seeing deadly second waves with record numbers of new infections and deaths. 

“The ministry’s technical team is still monitoring the vaccines. We have the capacity to wait for the vaccines, there is no rush. We want to make sure that whatever vaccines we choose will be safe,” he added.

Medical personnel at Tutong hospital diverted to treat rising number of imported cases

Brunei recorded one more imported COVID-19 case on Thursday, bringing the number of active cases to 21. 

The sultanate has recorded 246 days without any domestic transmission of COVID-19, but has seen 32 imported cases since May 6 last year.

Case 173 is a 38-year-old man who travelled from Indonesia via Singapore on a SQ148 flight on December 25, 2020. He showed no signs of infection and is currently being monitored and treated at the National Isolation Centre. 

Indonesia has the highest number of COVID-19 cases in Southeast Asia, with a daily high of 9,321 infections on Thursday.

Asked about healthcare capacity in view of the recent rise in imported COVID-19 cases, the minister said some health services in Tutong had to be moved to other hospitals as more nurses need to be deployed to the National Isolation Centre.

The Tutong hospital is designated as a hospital for treating COVID-19 patients, along with the National Isolation Centre. 

YB Dato Dr Hj Md Isham reassured the public that Brunei has some of the tightest border controls in the world — with only people on essential travel allowed entry — and any individual coming into country will be quarantined until they can produce a negative COVID-19 test result.