By Professor Dr Moy Foong Ming
The Ministry of Higher Education (MOHE) has been very caring to the students from the tertiary institutions, by allowing them to return to their hometowns for the Hari Raya festival amidst inter-state travel ban. We hope this will not bring the COVID-19 cases to another hike.
On the other hand, I wonder if the MOHE has thought of the medical students, especially those in their clinical years who participate in ward duties and come into direct contact with patients alongside physicians on a daily basis.
This has been worried by both the parents and physicians in charge of students in the wards. The medical students are the only ones who are not vaccinated among the frontliners in the clinical settings. They are at high risk of getting infected from the patients or transmitting COVID-19 to the patients.
From a brief survey by the Society of Malaysian Medical Association Medical Students (SMMAMS) on 25 March 2021, only University of Malaya (UM) and Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) had vaccinated or started to vaccinate their medical students. The other public and private medical schools/universities only advised their students to register with MySejahtera and wait for their turn.
By the criteria set by the Ministry of Health, these medical students will be the last to be vaccinated (Phase 3). Assessing the current COVID-19 situation, these students are in dire need to be vaccinated.
Medical students should be regarded as part of the medical team; they are performing history taking, physical examinations and assisting in procedures in the clinics and wards, which form part of their education.
Medical schools/faculties from the United Kingdom, Hong Kong, Singapore and the Philippines, have included their medical students in the vaccination plan together with frontliners.
Medical students who are not vaccinated and performing bedside learning in the wards are at high risks of contracting and passing on the disease to the already vulnerable patients. They may be living with the constant fear and anxiety of contracting COVID-19.
Vaccinations among medical students should be prioritized to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19.
The medical students should be included in the Phase 2 vaccination program but not left behind.
The MOHE should liaise with the MOH to provide vaccinations to these students as soon as possible at the hospitals they are currently attached for clinical training.
The medical students should not be the source of transmission to the vulnerable patients that they come into contact during their clinical training. The safety of medical students should be looked after to safeguard the future of our health care system.
(Professor Dr Moy Foong Ming, Department of Social & Preventive Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, Universiti Malaya.)