BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN — A total of 754 frontline workers received their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine as Brunei began Phase 1 of its vaccination programme on Saturday.

Health minister YB Dato Seri Setia Dr Hj Md Isham Hj Jaafar was the first to take the jab on Saturday, followed by senior officials from the ministry.

The vaccination drive started a day after Brunei received its first shipment of 24,000 Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine doses through the COVAX facility, which is co-led by GAVI, the World Health Organization, Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and UNICEF.

In February, the ministry received 52,000 doses of Sinopharm that were gifted by the Chinese government.

Both vaccines were administered on Saturday.

In the first phase of the vaccine rollout, frontliners who work at health facilities will be the first group to receive the jab, followed by seniors aged over 60 and overseas-bound students.

The vaccine will also be administered to frontliners from the Royal Brunei Armed Forces, Royal Brunei Police Force, Department of Civil Aviation, Royal Customs and Excise Department, Immigration and National Registration Department, volunteers, cabin crew as well as border control and quarantine workers.

The vaccination was held simultaneously at hospitals and select health facilities nationwide.

Each district has a designated vaccination centre — the Hassanal Bolkiah National 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 (PIHM) in Temburong.

Frontline workers pose for a photo after getting the COVID-19 vaccine. Photo: Faiq Airudin/ The Scoop

Temburong’s vaccination drive off to a slow start

Temburong’s vaccine rollout started at a slow pace on Saturday as the district has the lowest number of healthcare workers, said Dr Hjh Martina Dato Seri Paduka Hj Kifrawi, medical officer at Temburong Health Office.

For Temburong, the situation is a bit different…our healthcare population is smaller. We only have over 200 healthcare staff… so today we are going slow.

“Today is the first day, we’re doing around 30 vaccinations just to see how it goes,” she said in an interview with The Scoop.

The vaccination is also extended to frontliners manning the two points of entry or immigration control posts in the district – the Temburong Labu Control Post and Ujung Jalan Control and Inspection Complex.

“Temburong has a population of around 11,000… [without taking into account] people who are under 18 and pregnant women [who are not recommended to take the jab], we’re aiming to vaccinate at least 6,000 people, which is very small compared to Brunei-Muara district,” she added.

Once the vaccine rollout proceeds to Phases 2 and 3, the vaccination centre in Temburong will be able to inoculate 120 to 140 people per day.

The health ministry aims to inoculate at least 70 percent of the population by the end of the year.

Source: Ministry of Health

However, Dr Martina said vaccine hesitancy is common among the elderly.

“I’ve organised town halls with senior citizens, penghulu and grassroots leaders here and at the time, those who want to get vaccinated were around 40-50 percent only.

“This is similar to the MoH national survey on vaccine acceptance [that was conducted in January], where only 59 percent said they would take the vaccine,” she continued.

Since the announcement of Brunei’s vaccine rollout on Thursday, health authorities have received more positive feedback compared to few weeks ago, Dr Martina said.

The medical officer added that vaccine logistics is not expected to be an issue as Temburong has the capacity to store specific jabs at 2-8 degrees celsius.

“We ordered 300 to 400 doses for our healthcare workers and other frontliners. There won’t be a problem if we need to increase [the number of vaccines] because accessibility is not a problem with the opening of the [Sultan Haji Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien] bridge, she added.

The ministry has granted emergency use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine but the jabs will only be delivered at a later date.

She said, “Once the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine arrives, then we probably need freezers, we will prepare for it when the time comes”.

The Pfizer vaccine has strict cold storage requirements at -70 degree celsius.

A nurse helps a frontline worker fill in personal details before getting the COVID-19 vaccine. Photo: Faiq Airudin/ The Scoop

PIHM Staff nurse Mohd Ibrahim Abdullah said he was initially apprehensive about the jab, but decided to get vaccinated after weighing the pros and cons.

“Getting vaccinated is important because it reduces your risk [of getting infected],” he said.

The health ministry has called on Brunei residents to wait for their turn to be vaccinated after some members of the public proceeded to vaccine centres in an attempt to get coronavirus jabs.

The vaccine will be rolled out in three phases – Phase 2 for teachers, childcare workers and adults at high-risk of contracting the virus while Phase 3 will see the vaccine administered to all adults aged 18 and above.

MoH also urged the public to authenticate their BruHealth accounts, which will be used to book vaccine appointments once they are open to the public. 

‘Tarawih’ prayers allowed now

On Saturday, the Ministry of Religious Affairs announced that congregants will be allowed to attend tarawih prayers at mosques and other places of worship, as well as organised religious activities this Ramadhan

However, worshippers are still required to observe COVID-19 control guidelines.

In April last year, mosques and other places of worship were closed due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Congregational prayers at the mosques were not allowed and Muslims were urged to perform sunat tarawih prayers at home.