BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN — Brunei has begun inoculating its senior citizens against COVID-19 on Saturday, the second group to receive the jab under Phase 1 of the national vaccination programme that kicked off on April 3.

As of April 26, some 344 seniors have received their first dose of the Oxford-Astrazeneca vaccine, with the second dose slated to be administered in July.

The health ministry is pushing to vaccinate 38,000 senior citizens while vaccination centres nationwide will continue to inoculate frontliners.

Over the past few weeks, the ministry held town halls and meetings with seniors and grassroots leaders to encourage them to get vaccinated.

The government pushed forward vaccination for senior citizens to start from April 24 as it had earlier planned the inoculation of elderly to begin in early May once 30,000 frontliners have received their first jab.

To date, a total of 12,947 people have received their first COVID-19 vaccine dose.

Senior citizens will be given the AstraZeneca jab following the ministry’s decision to resume the use of the vaccine.

The government previously halted the administering of the AstraZeneca vaccine for two weeks after rare blood clot cases were reported in younger people who took the jab.

Elderly aged 60 and above are able to book COVID-19 vaccination slots through the BruHealth app.

Walk-in registrations are available at all vaccination centres — 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 Hjh Mariam Hospital in Temburong.

Ho Shui Moi (R) and her husband, Lim Leong Tay (L) pose for a photo after receiving their COVID-19 jab at the Indoor Stadium. Photo: Rudolf Portillo/The Scoop

Ho Shui Moi, a pensioner who received her COVID-19 jab on Monday, said she was happy to get vaccinated.

“I feel okay after the injection, I’m very happy…everything [we do] is for our health and to protect ourselves,” said Ho, who will be celebrating her 70th birthday in two days.

Ho was vaccinated along with her husband, Lim Leong Tay at the Indoor Stadium.

The couple signed up for the vaccination via the walk-in registration and underwent a 15-minute observation period after the jab.

Speaking to The Scoop, Ho said there was proper dissemination of information on the national vaccination programme, but the success of the inoculation drive boils down to whether people are willing to get vaccinated.

“I heard a lot from my friends who said they are scared to get vaccinated.

“For some people, they are scared. If you have any [concerns] you must tell the doctor… you should also tell them if you’re allergic to any medicines, don’t lie,” she added.

Hj Jamaludin Sapar, 66, takes a photo after receiving his first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine at the Indoor Stadium. Photo: Rudolf Portillo/The Scoop

For Hj Jamaludin Sapar, the COVID-19 mass vaccination drive reminded him of a similar inoculation programme that was conducted in 1965 due to a cholera outbreak.

Hj Jamaludin, who was 10 years old at the time, recalled that the situation was challenging as healthcare workers had to visit villages to vaccinate residents.

The retired Kg Batu Marang village head said, “We must not be afraid to get vaccinated. We are taking care of ourselves, our loved ones and the community.

“Getting vaccinated is not mandatory, but getting the vaccination will ensure that we reduce our risks of severe illness [if we contract the virus],” he added.

Dr Andrew Littlejohn, a UK citizen working in Brunei, was also one of the 83 senior citizens who received his jab at the Indoor Stadium on Monday.

“[It is] very well-organised, I’m quite impressed with [all that’s being done] and  the whole vaccination programme. I registered through the BruHealth app and received [appointment] reminders,” the 66-year-old said.

Dr Andrew Littlejohn gives a thumbs up upon receiving his COVID-19 jab. Photo: Rudolf Portillo/The Scoop

Dr Littlejohn, a lecturer at Universiti Brunei Darussalam’s Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah Institute of Education, will receive his second vaccine dose on July 18. 

“I’m very pleased… it’s finally happening, [this will] eventually mean that we would be able to travel again. Of course I would like to go back to Europe at some point, but we have to do it carefully and slowly and not rush into things,” he added.