KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 19 — Malaysia will join 172 countries to participate in the global COVAX Covid-19 vaccine access plan co-led by the World Health Organization (WHO), Khairy Jamaluddin announced today.
“The government is currently discussing the terms of Malaysia’s participation together with the Global Alliance for Vaccine and Immunisation (GAVI) that is coordinating COVAX,” the science, technology and innovation minister said in a statement, adding that the Malaysian government was also preparing an agreement to join the Coalition for Epidemic and Preparedness Innovations (CEPI).
COVAX — coordinated by GAVI, CEPI, and WHO — is a pooled procurement mechanism for new Covid-19 vaccines that aims to provide participating economies fair and equitable access to vaccines by pooling purchasing power from these nations across a range of candidate vaccines. Besides Malaysia, 172 nations have joined COVAX.
The 172 economies comprise 80 higher-income countries that will finance the Covid-19 vaccines from their own national budgets, while the remaining 92 low- and middle-income countries will receive financial support to access the vaccines. Singapore is part of the 80 higher-income economies, while Asean countries Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, the Philippines, and Vietnam are among the 92 lower-income countries that will be supported by COVAX. Malaysia is classified as an upper middle-income economy.
Khairy also said today the Malaysian government was currently preparing government-to-government agreements with the Chinese government to get access to coronavirus vaccines developed in China.
The Malaysian government, through the Ministry of Health (MOH), has also signed non-disclosure agreements with several international pharmaceutical companies, which are currently testing Covid-19 candidate vaccines in the third phase of clinical trials, to negotiate the procurement of approved vaccines. Khairy did not disclose the names of the drugmakers Malaysia is negotiating with.
“Malaysia’s approach in joining COVAX, cooperating strategically with other countries, and negotiating directly with pharmaceutical companies, will ensure that Malaysia gets a quick and sufficient supply of vaccines at an appropriate price when the vaccine is proven to be safe and effective,” said Khairy.
The minister added that he would be responsible for arranging these agreements on behalf of the Malaysian government.
Two of nine candidate vaccines in the COVAX portfolio are currently in Phase 3 trials: Moderna and AstraZeneca-Oxford University. Phase 3 trials test the vaccine on thousands of people to observe the vaccine’s effectiveness in preventing Covid-19 infection. Phase 3 trials, being large enough, can also reveal rare side effects that could have been missed in earlier smaller studies.
The New York Times also listed BioNTech-Pfizer’s vaccine as being tested under combined Phases Two and Three, while four vaccines in China are in Phase 3 and approved for limited use: CanSino Biologics, Sinovac Biotech, Wuhan Institute of Biological Products, and Sinopharm.
Health experts have previously urged the Malaysian government to join COVAX. They pointed out that it could be a difficult task to select a specific pharmaceutical company or a country to make a bilateral agreement with, while stressing that a wrong bet placed could cost the government dearly.
The Malaysian Medical Association, the largest doctors’ group in the country, also yesterday urged MOH to be transparent about the government’s plans on getting a Covid-19 vaccine for the country, expressing concern that not joining COVAX could leave Malaysia last in the global queue for vaccines.