BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – Brunei’s COVID-19 vaccination drive has hit a major setback as a vaccine shortage has forced the health ministry to temporarily halt first-dose bookings from September 1.

The health minister Tuesday said all vaccination centres will stop inoculating people who were scheduled to receive their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, except for a limited number of seniors, pregnant women and special needs individuals.

Speaking during his daily COVID-19 press briefing, YB Dato Dr Hj Md Isham Hj Jaafar said the supply of COVID-19 vaccines has decreased at an “unexpected and rapid” pace.

Noting that the provision of vaccines to Brunei residents is a priority, the minister apologised for the inconvenience caused and said the ministry is working to secure more vaccines as soon as possible.

He added that the government is in negotiations with pharmaceutical manufacturers and “friendly countries” to deliver more vaccines.

Members of the public who have already made their first-dose appointments will be rescheduled to another booking slot once new vaccines arrive.

Asked when the next shipment of vaccines expected to arrive, the minister said there is no confirmed timeline yet.

FILE PHOTO: Health Minister YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham. Photo: Rasidah Hj Abu Bakar/The Scoop

YB Dato Hj Mohd Isham said access to COVID-19 vaccines remains a challenge and other countries are facing similar issues.

The vaccination disruption comes less than two weeks after Singapore donated 100,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine to Brunei, while Oxford-Astrazeneca vaccine supplies have ran out.

On average, Brunei administered 5,910 vaccine doses a day over the past week and reached a daily record high of 10,826 doses on August 28 after two additional vaccination centres opened in Brunei-Muara district.

Nearly half of the population has received at least one vaccine dose since the national vaccination programme kicked off almost five months ago.

Some 20.5 percent of residents are fully vaccinated after completing their two-dose regimen.

Those awaiting their second vaccine shot can still proceed with their scheduled appointments.

Despite the supply shortage, the minister said the government is still “quite confident” of hitting the 70 percent vaccination target by the end of this year.

Earlier in August, YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham had said Pfizer vaccines were expected to arrive in the final quarter of 2021.

Death toll rises to nine, daily new cases fall for second straight day

The health ministry saw another drop in daily new coronavirus cases for the second day in a row after reporting 71 additional infections on Tuesday.

YB Dato Hj Mohd Isham also announced that a ninth COVID-19 patient had died of a lung infection.

The victim, an 80-year-old man, was diagnosed with the coronavirus on August 22.

The number of daily COVID-19 recoveries also outpaced new cases as 130 people were discharged overnight, including 51 asymptomatic cases who completed their 14-day home isolation.

Eight people are critically ill and another 28 people are under close observation.

There are currently 1,734 active cases, while the cumulative confirmed number of infections hit 2,712.

Military personnel receive PPE training at Mahad Islam college, which has been designated as a temporary isolation centre for COVID-19 patients with mild symptoms. Photo: Ministry of Defence

Makeshift isolation facility at Mahad Islam college increases bed capacity

Mahad Islam Brunei college, which has been turned into a makeshift isolation centre, will start receiving more COVID-19 patients from Wednesday.

Jointly operated with the Royal Brunei Armed Forces (RBAF), the facility will be able to accommodate an additional 338 patients with mild symptoms.

The Mahad Islam isolation centre in Tutong is being readied in three phases – 104 beds in Phase 1, 338 beds in Phase 2 and 464 beds in Phase 3.

In addition to Mahad Islam Brunei college, COVID-19 patients are also isolated at the National Service Programme camp in Temburong and RBAF’s Lumut camp.