Malaysia on Wednesday launched its COVID-19 inoculation programme, which authorities hope will rein in a spike in infections and help revive an economy that recorded its worst slump in over two decades last year.
Malaysia has set an ambitious target of vaccinating at least 80% of its 32 million people by February next year.
Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin was the first to be given the vaccine, developed by U.S. drugmaker Pfizer and German partner BioNTech, as part of government efforts to reassure people of the vaccine’s safety.
After Muhyiddin was given his shot, officials clapped in the health department office in the administrative capital of Putrajaya, before a group of health workers was also vaccinated.
“I am confident this vaccine is safe and effective,” Muhyiddin said, adding that the public should have faith in his government’s efforts to break the chain of COVID-19 infections.
The Southeast Asian nation had largely contained the virus for most of last year, but a spike in infections that started in September has placed Malaysia third in the region in total cases, behind Indonesia and the Philippines.
Malaysia has reported nearly 290,000 coronavirus cases and 1,076 deaths as of Tuesday, though new daily infections have started trending downwards in the past week.
The vaccination process will be implemented in three phases, with the first expected to run from February to April involving 300,000 medical and 200,000 non-medical frontline workers – including politicians, security personnel and welfare officers.
Around 9.4 million high-risk individuals will be vaccinated in the next phase between April and August, followed by more than 16 million adults aged 18 and older in phase three that will run from May to February next year.
Last week, the government said it has secured 66.7 million vaccine doses, enough to more than cover its population.
Pfizer and BioNTech will supply half of the total doses, with the remainder sourced from Britain’s AstraZeneca, Russia’s Gamaleya Research Institute, and China’s Sinovac Biotech and CanSino Biologics.