KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 29 — The Malaysian government today appeared to backtrack from joining the global COVAX Covid-19 vaccine access plan co-led by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Bernama reported Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Khairy Jamaluddin as saying that the government was still negotiating with COVAX coordinators on Malaysia’s participation in the vaccine access plan that has been signed up by 156 countries so far.
“We are also in direct discussion with other international pharmaceutical companies for direct supply without having to undergo the Covid-19 Vaccine Global Access (COVAX) allocation plan,” Khairy was quoted saying at an event here today.
“We are still discussing some matters with COVAX. The facility is for early purchase, so the procurement model is quite extraordinary. We pay for something that still doesn’t exist.”
Khairy reportedly said the government is expected to decide on a Covid-19 vaccine by early next year, as data from several coronavirus vaccine clinical tests would be analysed at the end of this year.
Besides that, he said his ministry along with the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Finance, and the Attorney General’s Chambers are discussing the legal implications and procurement model for the vaccine.
“I have also requested for an agreement with China to be finalised as soon as possible as the draft is almost completed,” Khairy said.
Khairy later tweeted, “We are still negotiating with COVAX and deliberating internally. We still intend to join but must be satisfied that the terms and conditions are fair to Malaysia,” in response to Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy head Azrul Mohd Khalib, who had tweeted that Khairy’s remarks today implied that Malaysia might not be joining the COVAX Facility after all.
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.
COVAX’s all-inclusive price of US$10.55 per dose of Covid-19 vaccines is nearly seven times cheaper than China-owned Sinopharm’s experimental coronavirus vaccine at US$72.50 per dose. Participating countries in COVAX — which are buying the Covid-19 vaccines from their national budgets — must make upfront payments and financial or risk-sharing guarantees by this coming October 9 to reserve vaccine doses.
On September 19, Khairy announced that Malaysia will be joining COVAX and that the government was currently discussing the terms of Malaysia’s participation together with the Global Alliance for Vaccine and Immunisation (Gavi) that is coordinating the COVAX Facility.
COVAX — coordinated by Gavi, the Coalition for Epidemic and Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), and 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
However, Malaysia has yet to be listed under a list of nations that expressed confirmation of intent to participate, or among the countries that have signed legally binding commitment agreements like Australia, Brunei, Japan, Singapore, and New Zealand. Self-financing countries have until October 9 to make upfront payments to reserve vaccine doses.
A Gavi spokesperson told CodeBlue that the agreements are complex hence, many countries have requested additional time to submit.
Health experts have said that the COVAX Facility is the most promising option for countries to receive equitable access to vaccines when it is made available.
Dr Khor Swee Kheng from the Malaysian Health Coalition previously said that Malaysia’s 32-million population is too small to have successful separate negotiations with individual vaccine companies who will want a minimum order quantity.
Dr Sazaly Abu Bakar, director of Universiti Malaya’s Tropical Infectious Diseases Research and Education Centre also told CodeBlue in an interview that none of the Covid-19 candidate vaccines have completed their Phase Three clinical trials, hence a wrong bet in booking a vaccine could cost the government dearly.
Note at 10:55pm: The story included an update on Khairy’s tweet about COVAX, in the eighth paragraph.