BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – The health minister Tuesday said Japan will donate 100,000 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine to Brunei, paving the way for the sultanate to reach its 70 percent vaccination goal by the end of the year.

During his daily press briefing, YB Dato Dr Hj Md Isham Hj Jaafar said the donated COVID-19 vaccines are expected to arrive at the end of September.

In addition to China’s contribution of 100,000 doses of the Sinopharm vaccine on Sunday, the donated vaccines from Japan would allow Brunei to resume first dose jabs after suspending it for two weeks due to a vaccine shortage.

Earlier on Monday, YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham said the administration of first doses may restart on Thursday once booking slots have been finalised on the BruHealth app.

In a press statement, the Japanese embassy said the donated AstraZeneca vaccines were produced in Japan and expects these vaccines to contribute to Brunei’s 70 percent vaccination target.

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

The contribution of AstraZeneca vaccines to Brunei is part of Japan’s latest donation batch, including another 500,000 doses to Taiwan, 400,000 to Vietnam, and 300,000 to Thailand.

To date, 32 percent of the Brunei population are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 after receiving two doses.

MoH to offer Pfizer jabs to children and teens

YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham said his ministry is still waiting for the delivery of Pfizer vaccines, which will be given to children and adolescents aged 12 and above.

“By the end of the year, InshaAllah, there’s a big possibility for us to start the vaccination programme for those aged 12 and above,” he said.

He added that about 12 percent of Brunei residents would not be able to get vaccinated, including cancer patients and young children.

Asked whether vaccination will be mandatory for students before schools reopen, the minister said the number of infected children and teenagers was “quite high”.

Some 15 percent of the total number of COVID-19 cases belong in the 10 to 19 age group, while those aged 0 to 9 accounted for 12 percent of the cumulative infections, he said after the press briefing.

Brendan Lo, 13, receives a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for COVID-19 at Northwell Health’s Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New York on May 13, 2021. Photo: Reuters

The minister said scientific data showed that children aged 12 and above can receive the COVID-19 jab and drugmakers are awaiting clinical trial results of the vaccine on younger children.

Schools have been shut since August 7, with students shifting to online learning.

In response to a question on whether Brunei needs to hit 70 percent vaccination coverage before COVID-19 restrictions can be lifted, the minister said other factors need to be taken into account.

“Even if we reach [70%], we need to decide how will we scale down. A lot of factors need to be considered such as the state of healthcare system at the time, especially the number of critical cases,” he continued.

108 additional cases; three new clusters detected

The health ministry reported 108 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday, bringing the overall COVID-19 tally to 4,431.

Brunei also reported its first imported infection in a week after an individual from Manila tested positive for the coronavirus.

Three new clusters have emerged, including one at Freshco Shopping Centre in Batu Satu with eight cases. The other two clusters were individual cases who infected household members.

There are now 1,548 active cases following the full recovery of 102 people in the past 24 hours.

Thirty-nine people are receiving treatment in the intensive care unit.

YB Dato Hj Mohd Isham also announced that two makeshift healthcare facilities – third phase of Mahad Islam Brunei college and Belait Sixth Form Centre – started housing COVID-19 patients with mild symptoms on Monday.

Jointly operated by the health ministry and Royal Brunei Armed Forces, the third and final phase of the Mahad facility can accommodate 488 patients while the temporary treatment centre in Belait has 320 beds.