Expedite access for Covid-19 vaccine, say health experts

by S BIRRUNTHA / pic by BLOOMBERG

THE resurgence of new Covid-19 cases has underlined the need for the country to enable quick access to the Covid-19 vaccine once it is available on the market.

Osel Group chief clinical and innovative scientist Dr Kris See said it is high time for the government to start negotiations with vaccine-producing countries to reserve doses to protect the most vulnerable groups in Malaysia.

This include a proper Covid-19 vaccine plan which incorporates the process of procurement and distribution to the public when the time comes.

He said although Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin had recently mentioned that Malaysia will ensure its access to Covid-19 vaccine even if one is not manufactured locally, the purchase negotiations to secure vaccines need to be expedited.

According to AFP, developed countries such the US, the UK, the European Union, Canada and Japan have already put in orders for at least 3.1 billion doses.

“Majority of our western counterparts are already in negotiations to acquire vaccines. Closer to home in Asean (region), countries like the Philippines, Singapore, Indonesia, Myanmar have all started direct negotiations with vaccine producers to negotiate about possible vaccine procurement.

“So, we must ensure our citizens have the same equal chance as other nations to have access to vaccines when they are ready. For that to happen, we must start now,” he told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR) in a recent phone interview.

Dr See said the authorities must be able to draw their experience from the time when face masks were in short supply in the country. He also stressed that such difficulties should not arise again as many people were at the time scrambling to make their own face masks or to purchase it at a premium market.

On the increasing number of cases, Dr See said he welcomes the government’s move to impose an administrative lockdown at areas affected by Covid-19.

However, he said if the country is unable to sustain the low infectivity cases, it should revert to a more targeted and stricter lockdown.

“Besides tightening the borders, one of the other key sectors to focus on is essential workers.

“We should also consider carrying out routine testing on essential workers and frontliners to reduce the infectivity rates.”

On the contrary, Pantai Hospital Kuala Lumpur respiratory physician Dr Helmy Haja Mydin said there is no need for the government to hurry in the race to acquire the vaccine as it is very important to ensure the vaccine is effective and safe for use.

He said the presence of a vaccine will not stop the public from continuing with measures such as physical distancing, mask wearing and complying with standard operating procedures.

“There are many reasons why vaccines are not the ‘cure-all’ from uptake to efficacy.

“The primary reason why we should not rush into purchasing is that in medical research, we have to not only prove efficacy but also demonstrate safety,” he told TMR.

He noted that it is why the concept of “Primum non nocere”, which translates into “First, do no harm!” predominates in the medical field.

Dr Helmy said instead of placing all bets on vaccines, enhanced lockdowns in areas affected by the pandemic should be localised as much as possible. “It should be done with strict implementation of even local or state border control.”

He added that this will help balance the need for public health protection and economic disruption.

Currently, several countries including Russia, China and the UK are in the process of producing the Covid-19 vaccine.

Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Adham Baba had previously said the government was still waiting for the vaccine-producing countries to conduct the three phases of clinical trials, with the last phase being testing on humans.

However, last week, British drugmaker AstraZeneca plc had suspended late-stage trials of its potential vaccine after one of its participants developed an unexplained illness.

The drug company issued a statement saying the move was intended to give researchers time to examine safety data, while maintaining the integrity of the trials.

The World Health Organisation had marked the AstraZeneca vaccine, which was being developed with the University of Oxford, as the most promising for Covid-19.