Govt to decide on booster shot next week

pic by AFP

THE need for a booster shot for Covid-19 vaccines and the efficacy for a mixed shot will be determined next week by the Vaccine Selection Technical Working Group.

Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Khairy Jamaluddin Abu Bakar said Malaysia has been taking consideration from the real-world data and clinical data on the necessity of the third jab as the government awaits the recommendations from health experts.

“At the moment, we are waiting for the recommendation by the expert group chaired by Dr Kalaiarasu Peariasamy, the director of Institute Clinical Research, which will give their recommendation next week not just on the necessity of a booster shot, but also if we can use a different vaccine or heterologous dose.

“There are several countries that have been using the heterologous regimen such as South Korea and Germany due to supply disruption. The experts are reviewing the data by these countries, real-world data and clinical data,” he said in his wrap up speech at the Dewan Rakyat yesterday.

Khairy noted media reports that several other countries have begun making reservations for additional doses and said that he began negotiating with vaccine companies two weeks ago, especially for Pfizer Inc-BioNTech SE’s vaccine, for Malaysia to finalise procurements for 2022.

Responding to Bandar Kuching MP Dr Kelvin Yii’s query on antibody testing after receiving both doses of the Covid-19 vaccine, the minister said the government will establish an antibody immune surveillance programme to track the level of neutralising antibody among vaccine recipients.

“We will establish a policy for antibody testing. At the moment, the government does not recommend antibody testing and this is in line with the recommendation by the US Food and Drug Administration.

“The government will allocate RM15 million for the antibody immune surveillance programme.”

The minister also pledged that all school teachers will at least receive their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine before schools reopen in September. He said supporting staff and contract service staff will also get their first dose prior to the reopening.

The Rembau MP earlier clarified that the government’s early vaccine procurement was based on a cautious approach by looking at the results of other countries’ rollout.

The procurement, he said, was made after the government was satisfied with the results and safety of the vaccines.

Khairy also said all vaccines under the National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme (NCIP) such as Pfizer, Sinovac and AstraZeneca are effective against the highly contagious Delta variant.

The Dewan Rakyat sitting yesterday, however, ended with several questions from the Opposition unanswered as lower house Speaker Datuk Azhar Azizan Harun only allowed a 15-minute extension beyond 5.30pm.

During the morning session, the minister said another two vaccines that have obtained conditional approval from the Drug Control Authority (DCA) are now available for sale by the private sector.

Khairy said the vaccines, Covilo, which is locally distributed by Duopharma (M) Sdn Bhd, and Janssen, Janssen Pharmaceuticals NV’s vaccine distributed by Johnson & Johnson Sdn Bhd, have yet to be included in Malaysia’s vaccine portfolio and could be used for additional government procurement and private sale.

“While they are not in Malaysia’s portfolio at the moment, the conditional approval (by DCA) allows these vaccines to be used in Malaysia if the situation requires and can be obtained through government procurement or can be sold by (relevant) parties,” he updated the Dewan Rakyat on the NCIP.

Currently, six out of eight Covid-19 vaccines under Malaysia’s portfolio have gone through National Pharmaceutical Regulatory Agency (NPRA) assessment and received conditional approval, Khairy said.

The vaccines are Janssen and Vaxzevria (AstraZeneca) procured through the Covax Facility, Comirnaty (Pfizer) distributed by Pfizer (M) Sdn Bhd, CoronaVac (Sinovac) by Pharmaniaga Lifescience Sdn Bhd, AstraZeneca by Astrazeneca Sdn Bhd and Convidecia (CanSino) by Solution Biologics Sdn Bhd.

For the remaining two vaccines under the portfolio, the Sputnik V vaccine produced by Gamaleya National Research Centre for Epidemiology and Microbiology is currently still going through the NPRA evaluation process, while the Novavax vaccine procured through the Covax Facility has yet to be approved by WHO Emergency Use Listing Procedure.

“As with any other pharmaceutical products, each Covid-19 vaccine must be registered in Malaysia by a local pharmaceutical company, which will act as a product registration holder.

“All Covid-19 vaccines that have been approved to use in Malaysia will be given conditional registration approval.”