Malaysia Still Not On COVAX List, As Payment Deadline Looms In Fortnight

By Ashswita Ravindran | 25 September 2020

The deadline for higher-income economies to make upfront payments to the COVAX Facility to reserve Covid-19 vaccine doses is October 9.

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KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 25 – Amid fresh political upheaval, Malaysia still has yet to formally sign up with global Covid-19 vaccine access plan COVAX, as the deadline for initial payments approaches in two weeks.

A spokesperson from the Global Alliance for Vaccine and Immunisation (Gavi), which is coordinating COVAX, told CodeBlue that they are currently still in discussion with countries that have yet to submit their agreement, while many countries have indicated that they will sign up in the coming days.

“These are complex legal agreements so certain countries requested additional time to submit, and we will be working with these governments to ensure we receive them as soon as possible,” the Gavi spokesperson said.

“We will be updating the list of countries on our website regularly, so please continue checking the list here.”

CodeBlue asked the Gavi spokesperson for updates on Malaysia joining the COVAX Facility because although the Malaysian government, through the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MOSTI), has verbally announced Malaysia’s interest in joining the global coronavirus vaccine access plan, Gavi still has not listed Malaysia as among the countries that have signed legally binding agreements or expressed non-binding intentions to join COVAX.

As of September 23, over 60 higher-income economies have submitted non-binding confirmations of intent to participate in the COVAX Facility, while countries like Australia, Brunei, Japan, Singapore, and New Zealand, among others, have signed commitment agreements. Malaysia was not on either list. Self-financing participant countries must make upfront payments by October 9 to reserve vaccine doses.

Last Saturday, MOSTI announced that Malaysia will be joining COVAX and that the government is currently discussing the terms of Malaysia’s participation together with Gavi. COVAX — coordinated by Gavi, the Coalition for Epidemic and Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and the World Health Organization (WHO) — is a pool procurement mechanism, whereby higher income countries will finance the Covid-19 vaccines from their own national budgets, while 92 low- and middle-income countries will receive financial support to access the vaccines. COVAX aims to have two billion vaccine doses available by the end of 2021.

According to CodeBlue’s calculations, Malaysia would be required to make payment of US$135.04 million (RM558.46 million) by October 9 to vaccinate 20 per cent of its population (6.4 million people) on a two-dose regimen through COVAX, comprising a down payment of US$20.48 million (RM84.7 million) and financial guarantee of US$115.46 million (RM473.76 million). This payment, under COVAX’s Committed Purchase arrangement, is based on an all-inclusive price of US$10.55 (RM44) per dose, or US$21.10 (RM88) per person.

In the midst of all of this, Malaysia is now facing political uncertainty as Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim told a press conference Wednesday that he has a formidable and convincing support among Members of Parliament sufficient to form a government to replace the ruling Perikatan National (PN) administration that had a razor-thin majority in Parliament. However, Anwar is yet to meet the King to prove his assertion, as the Yang di-Pertuan Agong is receiving treatment at the National Heart Institute.

The Palace has confirmed that Anwar and his wife, Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, were scheduled to have an audience with Yang di-Pertuan Agong Al-Sultan Abdullah last Tuesday before it was postponed following the King’s illness. Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi has said “many” Umno MPs supported Anwar’s bid to form a new government.

The King has a few ways to resolve the impasse, including dissolving Parliament and calling for fresh elections, seeking a parliamentary confidence vote for current Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, or appointing a new prime minister that he deems to command majority support of Members of Parliament without a confidence vote in the Dewan Rakyat.

In a recent study published by The Lancet medical journal, researchers found that political instability and misinformation affects public trust towards vaccination programmes.

Malaysia’s International Cooperation On Covid-19 Vaccines

According to a written Dewan Negara reply by Deputy Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation Ahmad Amzad Hashim, Malaysia has expressed intentions to work with the Chinese government to procure a Covid-19 vaccine through Sinovac Biotech and Sinopharm (two China-based companies that are in the process of developing a Covid-19 vaccine). Sinopharm’s experimental coronavirus vaccine, priced at US$145 for two doses, is almost seven times more expensive than COVAX’s all-inclusive price of US$21.10 for a two-dose regimen.

However, Ahmad Amzad said that these companies are not interested in conducting their Phase Three trials in Malaysia as the number of positive Covid-19 cases here had been declining. Apart from that, MOSTI has also had discussions with the National Vaccine Institute of Thailand for a vaccine development joint venture.

“MOSTI, through its agency National Institutes of Biotechnology Malaysia (NIBM), has signed a letter of intent (LOI) to the Russian Embassy in Malaysia to obtain more information on vaccines,” Ahmad Amzad told the Dewan Negara on September 22.

According to the deputy minister, the Gamaleya National Research Centre of Epidemiology and Microbiology in Moscow, Russia – which he claimed developed a vaccine for the Ebola and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) related coronavirus – has also developed the first Russian coronavirus vaccine, Sputnik V, with plans to involve participants from across the world in its Phase Three clinical trial.

CNBC reported that according to WHO, no vaccine or treatment for MERS is currently available. Last December was the first time the United States’ Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a vaccine against Ebola, granting the approval to American pharmaceutical company Merck & Co.

Besides that, Ahmad Amzad also said that MOSTI, through NIBM, has signed an LOI with the Cuban Embassy in Malaysia to express a desire to collaborate with the Finlay Vaccine Institute (BioCubaFarma) and the Centre of Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (CIGB), Cuba to gain access to their Covid-19 vaccine that is currently in development.

Furthermore, MOSTI have had discussions on a potential collaboration with Imperial College London for the Phase Three clinical trial of their Covid-19 vaccine.

The Cabinet has also agreed for Malaysia to participate in the Malaysia-CEPI Joint Program for Capacity Building and Technology Transfer in the field of research and development (R&D), clinical trials in Malaysia for Covid-19 vaccine candidates developed by CEPI, and testing of local vaccine candidates on Covid-19.

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