This article was last updated at 12.23pm on Sunday, March 7 to reflect new information on the shipment of Brunei’s first batch of COVID-19 vaccines, including which vaccine will be used in the initial rollout. 

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – The COVID-19 vaccine will be made free for all Brunei residents, regardless of citizenship status, but the country’s inoculation programme can only begin once the first shipment of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines arrives later this month.

Releasing its vaccination strategy this week, the Ministry of Health (MoH) shared that the vaccine will be distributed in three phases.

In the first phase, the jabs will be given to frontliners, the elderly (over 60), and students bound for overseas study.

In the second phase, it will be administered to teachers, childcare workers and adults at high-risk of contracting the virus.

The third phase will see the vaccine given to all adults aged 18 and above.

So far COVID vaccines have not been recommended for use in children and pregnant women as there is little clinical data on how the vaccine affects these groups. People who have had a severe allergic reaction to any other vaccine injections must also proceed with caution.

Former COVID-19 patients must also be vaccinated against the virus, as scientists do not yet know how long they will be protected by their own antibodies.

A teacher puts a face mask on a student at Dato Ratna Hj Muhammad Jaafar Primary School in Kiarong on June 22, 2020. Teachers and childcare workers will be vaccinated in the second stage of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout. Photo: Yusri Adanan/The Scoop

When will vaccinations begin?

While no official date has been set, on Saturday the health minister said the first shipment of vaccines is expected to arrive this month and mass inoculation will begin immediately after.

The government will rollout the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab first, of which it has already secured enough doses for 20 percent of the population.

China has also donated Sinopharm vaccines to Brunei, but YB Dato Seri Setia Dr Hj Md Isham Hj Jaafar said the vaccine is still undergoing evaluation before it can be authorised for use.

Brunei plans to inoculate at least 70 percent of the population, with 50 percent of vaccines supplied through the COVAX facility, a World Health Organization-led platform that ensures equitable access to vaccines.

MoH said a technical committee has been formed to evaluate vaccine candidates and to choose which ones will be used in Brunei. The panel is made up of doctors, scientists and pharmacists who will assess each vaccine based on data from scientific journals, media reports, and through direct discussions with vaccine manufacturers.

High-risk groups will be vaccinated first

Across the world COVID-19 vaccines will be in short supply for many months to come. Many countries — especially those in the Global South — will not have enough supplies to inoculate their entire population this year.

The health ministry stressed that those who are most at risk should be vaccinated first, which will involve looking at factors such as who is most exposed to COVID-19 and who can become seriously ill or die from it.

“Vaccines will arrive in Brunei Darussalam in batches over several months. Hence not everyone can be vaccinated immediately. Healthcare workers and vulnerable individuals including elderly and those with chronic underlying conditions are among those prioritised during the first phase” MoH said in the vaccine FAQ section of its website.

“As additional vaccines are approved and vaccine supplies increase, the COVID-19 vaccine will be made available for everyone.”

The BruHealth app has been a crucial tool for contact tracing and disseminating information to the public during the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: Faiq Airudin/The Scoop

Vaccination appointments will be scheduled via BruHealth

So far MoH has allocated one vaccination centre for each district: the Indoor Stadium in Brunei-Muara, Pengiran Muda Mahkota Pengiran Muda Haji Al-Muhtadee Billah Hospital in Tutong, Suri Seri Begawan Hospital in Belait, and Pengiran Isteri Hajah Mariam Hospital in Temburong.

To schedule a vaccination appointment, you must fill out a form on the BruHealth app and a QR code will be assigned to you.

After your first dose is administered, a healthcare worker will arrange an appointment for the second dose within two to 12 weeks, depending on the vaccine type.

Anyone who experiences side effects after taking the vaccine will be required to report the symptoms via the BruHealth app.

For more information, the public is encouraged to read the Brunei Darussalam Vaccination Strategy and the Ministry of Health’s FAQ on COVID-19 vaccines