Vaccine announcement good news but hurdles remain

by S BIRRUNTHA/ pic by AFP

THE government’s agreement to purchase 12.8 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine will boost the people’s confidence but a health group cautions of many issues that need to be attended on the matter.

“It certainly gives a boost of confidence. In the coming year, at least 20 percent of the population or 6.4 million Malaysians will have access to this two-dose regimen vaccine while another 10 percent can expect to benefit from a COVAX initiative vaccine.”

“However, this is a marathon and this is only at the first leg of the race,” said Azrul Mohd Khalib, CEO of the Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy.

Azrul said in a statement that the vaccine by Pfizer and BioNTech is expected to be priced at US$19.50 per dose. This would mean that Malaysia has committed to paying an estimated US$249.6 million (RM1 billion) for 12.8 million doses.

“However, the investment is worth it if we are able to prioritise and quickly assure the protection of our personnel working in essential public services such as in health, law enforcement, sanitation and utilities sectors, as well as those vulnerable such as the elderly, and patients with non-communicable diseases,” he added. 

Apart from that, the group also expressed concerns on the logistical burden as  this vaccine requires ultra-cold storage of negative 70 degrees’ Celsius.

We expect the most challenging part of the process will be the delivery of the vaccine to rural areas. Due to limitations and pragmatic concerns, will urban areas end up being prioritised over rural areas?” Azrul added.

The group calls for a review of Budget 2021 allocations, especially those related to Covid-19 vaccination activities. 

“We need to ensure that the Ministry of Health gets the necessary funds and manpower needed to hit the ground running when the vaccines become available in 2021, especially since this vaccine has specific logistical and storage requirements which will require investing in required infrastructure and training,” he said further.

On Friday, Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin announced that Malaysia has signed an agreement to purchase 12.8 million doses of Pfizer Inc’s Covid-19 vaccine to meet the immunisation needs of 20% or 6.4 million people in this country.

 The first delivery involving a million doses of the vaccine will be made in the first quarter of next year as a result of the initial purchase agreement signed by the government through the Ministry of Health (MoH) on Nov 24.  

“Through this agreement as well, Pfizer promises delivery of one million doses in the first quarter of 2021, followed by 1.7 million doses in the second quarter, 5.8 million doses in the third quarter and subsequently 4.3 million doses in the fourth quarter.

“The government guarantees that the vaccine to be used in Malaysia must pass the strict conditions set by the NPRA. The government will never compromise on this matter,” he said in a virtual press conference in Putrajaya.

Also present were Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Adham Baba and Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Khairy Jamaluddin.

Additionally, Muhyiddin also informed that Malaysia through the MoH had also signed an agreement with the COVAX facility on Nov 22, to get the Covid-19 vaccine to meet the immunisation needs of 10% of Malaysians.

He said therefore, both the agreements are expected to guarantee access to the Covid-19 vaccine for 30% of Malaysians.

Meanwhile, Khairy Jamaluddin had shared in a Facebook posting that the preliminary data on the Pfizer vaccine have so far shown a high level of effectiveness as high as 95%.

He said this after undergoing a third phase clinical trial on 43,998 people worldwide covering children as young as 12 years old up to the elderly aged 85 years.

Additionally, Khairy also noted that the Pfizer vaccine uses the messenger technology of Ribonucelic acid (mRNA) and was created by German Muslim scientists, Ugur Sahin and Ozlem Tureci.

He added that the vaccine did not show any serious side effects to date and the initial purchase of this vaccine was also made by the European Union (EU), United States (US), United Kingdom (UK), Japan, Canada and Australia.

Read our previous report:

Health DG: First phase of vaccines limited to 18 years old and above