Group MD says demand for Sinovac vaccine could rise rapidly as it is expected to be approved by WHO later this week
by SHAHEERA AZNAM SHAH / pic by TMR FILE
PHARMANIAGA Bhd plans to import a total of 10 million doses of finished Sinovac Biotech Ltd’s Covid-19 vaccine from Beijing, China, to guarantee a continuous supply for Malaysia.
Its group MD Datuk Zulkarnain Md Eusope (picture) said the demand for the Sinovac vaccine could rise rapidly as it is expected to be approved by the World Health Organisation (WHO) later this week.
“Taking into consideration the current geopolitics and supply issues around the world, the supply of vaccines is unpredictable. If this happens, there is a possibility of a vaccine supply shortage in Malaysia.
“Domestically, when the cases started to rise, we told the government to be prepared on the supply as demand for Sinovac could rise when WHO approves it in the coming week.
“In the event that Sinovac is fully booked, Malaysia must make an additional booking for both the finished supplies as well as for the fill-and-finish process,” he said during a virtual conference yesterday.
Zulkarnain said the additional order is also for the preparation in vaccinating younger age groups as preliminary data by Sinovac showed that its vaccine is safe to be used for children ages three to 17.
Zulkarnain was responding to criticisms by a certain quarter on the delay of its fill-and-finish production, as well as the procurement of the bottled vaccines from Sinovac.
Commenting on the interest by the state government to procure the Covid-19 vaccine, Zulkarnain said Pharmaniaga could start looking into orders outside of the National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme (NCIP) by the third or fourth week of June.
“Now, we have orders from many states including Selangor, Sabah, Perak, Pahang and Johor. In fact, we have received requests from overseas.
“But as stated by the NCIP Coordinating Minister Khairy Jamaluddin Abu Bakar, Pharmaniaga is currently focusing on completing the federal government’s orders.
“When they are completed, hopefully by June or July, we will start distributing to states and even private sectors,” he said.
Previously, Khairy instructed the pharmaceutical company to prioritise the 12 million doses of the Sinovac vaccines ordered by the government, whether through the fill-and-finish or importing the finished product.
On Pharmaniaga’s plans to increase its fill-and-finish capacity for China’s Covid-19 vaccine from two million doses per month to four million, Zulkarnain said the company’s manufacturing plant, equipment and manpower are ready to cater to the increased production.
“Our facility is ready to increase the dosage. It will take some time to get the approval, but it is the standard procedure that is being used all over the world that we must adhere to.
“It is not a matter of delay, but a matter of whether the vaccine is safe to be injected into humans.
“Whenever a pharmaceutical company wants to make any improvisation on the dosage or changes in the ingredients, the production must be tested first,” he said, adding that the dosage increment has been approved by China’s National Medical Products Administration, or formerly known as China Food and Drug Administration.
Pharmaniaga group deputy MD Mohamed Iqbal Abdul Rahman said the pharmaceutical company is preparing documentation to be submitted to the National Pharmaceutical Regulatory Agency, while expecting the production to be ramped up by August.
“Our fill-and-finish production for the Sinovac vaccine is currently at 500,000 doses per week or two million doses per month, with one dose for each vial.
“However, we plan to ramp up the distribution to help the country achieve herd immunity faster. We will increase the number of doses for each vial to two doses, making our monthly capacity to four million,” he said.