Malaysia in talks to become Covid-19 vaccine manufacturing hub for Asean countries

Health DG says Malaysia is engaging with China to discuss issues related to the virus, one of the topics is the vaccine development

by HARIZAH KAMEL/ pic by RAZAK GHAZALI

THERE is a prospect for Malaysia to become the hub of manufacturing Covid-19 vaccine for countries in the Asean region.

Health DG Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah (picture) said Malaysia is engaging with China to discuss issues related to the virus, one of the topics is the vaccine.

He said there are three companies that are looking into the vaccine development namely Sinovac Biotech Ltd, Sinopharm Group (Holding) Co Ltd and CanSino Biologics Inc, and they are in the clinical trial.

“Initially, we wanted Malaysia to be the hub of clinical trials but we do not have many patients now to do it, so they are taking the research to Brazil.

“If they find strong evidence that suggests the vaccine works, we would like to volunteer to be the hub of manufacturing for Asean countries, so that’s another ongoing negotiation. Having said that, we need to look into the data first before we can make any conclusive action,” he said in a webinar entitled “How Can Asean Bounce Back: Fostering Public Health Safety and Economic Resilience for a Borderless Community in Asean” recently.

The webinar was hosted by CIMB Asean Research Institute under its Covid-19 Economic Recovery Plan Series.

When asked if Malaysia has the capacity to manufacture the vaccine, Dr Noor Hisham said there is no doubt that Malaysia can be the hub of manufacturing, but that they need to see the data before making any decision.

“We have more questions than answers at the moment. Firstly, the person may get re-infection; secondly, does the vaccine work to sustain the virus and how frequent must we give a dosage of the vaccine?

“Until we see the clinical trials, then only we can make conclusive evidence to support or to against it,” he said.

On addressing the vaccine situation at Asean level, he said they are looking into ways to enhance coordination and cooperation among the Asean members. Most of them are members of the World Health Organisation (WHO).

“We stand guided by the WHO, based on science and facts. We find that we can use Asean as a platform to create a benchmark and standards that are agreeable to all the members.

“Rather than all the countries having to duplicate the services, why not we be united to develop the vaccine in one area, contributed by other countries. So, this coordination is important for us to work together as partners,” said the DG.

He also noted that if the country has to undergo the virus’ next wave, Malaysia is more prepared than before, but the situation must be contained swiftly.

“It’s already proven that we can manage the risk, provided that the public comply with the standard operating procedure. We need strong social responsibility, social discipline and social compliance. If we have that in place, I think we may succeed,” he said.

For Asean nations, he added that as each country is confronted by varying degrees of preparedness and challenges, in-country responses will have to take priority during the onset of the pandemic.

Malaysia opted for targeted testing that focused on high-risk groups instead of the mass testing.

New daily cases in Malaysia came from being the highest in Asean within the range of hundreds back in March and April, to within single digits since early July.

With the daily cases under control, Malaysia currently has the fourth-highest cumulative number of cases in Asean, behind Indonesia, the Philippines and Singapore.