BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine will now be the default vaccine in the sultanate’s mass inoculation programme for COVID-19, going back on previous advice to limit its routine use to over 60s.

After pausing first dose jabs for two weeks due to a vaccine shortage, Brunei received a donation of 100,000 doses of Sinopharm from China, while Australia and Japan both pledged 100,000 doses of AstraZeneca each.

Speaking to the press on Saturday, Health minister YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham Hj Jaafar said unless people request Sinopharm, AstraZeneca will be given as the default vaccine.

Previously, the use of AstraZeneca was restricted to over 60s after concerns emerged about rare blood clots, but younger people could still opt to receive the vaccine as long as they were aware of the risks.

“People need to understand that for 60 and over, we recommend them to get AstraZeneca,” said the health minister. “But if they want to get Sinopharm, then now it’s allowed.

“It’s the same for those 60 and below, before this we allocated [different vaccine types] for certain people but now AstraZeneca is the default. If they don’t want it, then they just say they want Sinopharm.”

Clotting events associated with AstraZeneca are extremely rare, occurring at rate of approximately four in a million, far less common then blood clots associated with the use of Heparin, a blood thinner, or hormonal contraceptives.

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

Sinopharm and AstraZeneca are the only two vaccines being used for the provision of first doses. Previous supplies of Moderna have been exhausted, while delivery of 300,000 doses of Pfizer is not expected until later this year.

YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham said the government has also ordered 300,000 doses of Novavax and a further 50,000 doses of AstraZeneca through the COVAX initiative.

“Even though we ordered more than we needed… it still hasn’t arrived. Based on these numbers, [what we ordered] is sufficient. But this is beyond our control or beyond the control of the government.”

“Some countries, especially friendly countries that have extra vaccines – they understand that we’re facing an urgency… We will contact them and if they have any extra, then they will contribute.

“So we’re thankful to these countries that help us bridge the gap while waiting for our vaccines to arrive,” he said.

Mass swabbing to begin today

The health minister also revealed that MoH and other government agencies will be going to high density areas to carry out mass swabbing as part of surveillance testing.

“The public, and especially workers, don’t need to worry about the arrival of these agencies. The purpose is to ease the process of swabbing for them.”

He added that authorities will focus on “hotspots” that have recorded a large number of COVID-19 cases, including commercial areas, housing schemes and foreign workers’ dormitories.

Images circulating on social media Saturday night showed health officials carrying out mass swabbing at commercial area in Kg Rimba.

Two more COVID deaths; 143 new cases

Brunei recorded 143 new COVID-19 cases on Saturday, bringing the cumulative number of cases to 4,957.

The health ministry also confirmed that two male patients, aged 51 and 82, have died, although the latter is not classified as a COVID-related death.

There are currently 89 active clusters in Brunei totaling 1,590 people with active infections.