KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 9 — Khairy Jamaluddin today corrected false claims cited by Gua Musang MP Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah that vaccines are not needed to end the Covid-19 pandemic due to natural herd immunity.
Tengku Razaleigh, in a statement that has gone viral on WhatsApp, quoted former Pfizer vice president Dr Mike Yeadon as saying that Covid-19 vaccines are unnecessary as people globally are acquiring natural herd immunity to the disease.
As of today, Covid-19 has infected nearly 69 million people around the world and caused about 1.6 million deaths. In Malaysia, 76,265 people have been infected, after another 959 new Covid-19 cases were reported today, while 393 people have died.
“I would like to point out to the Gua Musang MP that Dr Yeadon’s views have been marked as inaccurate under Health Feedback, which is a member of the [World Health Organization] WHO-led project Vaccine Safety Net (VSN),” Khairy said in a statement today.
“The VSN consists of a diverse group of websites that provides vaccine safety information in various languages. Each of these websites has been evaluated by WHO and meets the criteria for good information practices. Perhaps the Gua Musang MP would like to check the veracity of the sources he quotes when preparing a statement.”
Tengku Razaleigh also noted side effects from Pfizer’s and Moderna’s clinical trials of their Covid-19 vaccines, such as muscle pain, chills, and headache, as he claimed that vaccine developments by US pharmaceutical company Pfizer and other drugmakers were fast-tracked due to political pressure from the Trump administration.
The Umno lawmaker further spread misinformation in his statement, as he cited “several” unnamed experts who claimed that Covid-19 could be treated with “more holistic, herbal and complimentary [sic] medicine”, and to improve immunity by living a clean and healthy lifestyle. There are no treatments yet for Covid-19.
Khairy acknowledged that while none of the vaccines in Phase 3 trials have so far demonstrated sterilising immunity (ability of the immune system to stop pathogens, including viruses, from replicating in a human body), available data showed the vaccines have been effective in preventing Covid-19 disease.
Scientists from the US’ Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said, in detailed documents released yesterday, that the vaccine by Pfizer and its German partner, BioNTech, was “highly effective” in preventing symptomatic Covid-19, at 95 per cent efficacy. The FDA review also found the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to be safe.
British-Swedish pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca said in a statement today that an interim analysis of the Phase 3 trial of its Covid-19 vaccine, peer-reviewed and published in The Lancet, showed its vaccine was safe and effective at preventing symptomatic Covid-19. A pooling of two dosing regimens showed 70.4 per cent effectiveness at preventing symptomatic Covid-19 occurring more than 14 days after receiving two doses of the vaccine.
AstraZeneca’s vaccine is part of the portfolio of the global COVAX Facility co-led by WHO. Malaysia has signed an agreement with COVAX to purchase Covid-19 vaccines to cover 10 per cent of the population, though the government has not yet indicated which vaccine it will procure from COVAX.
Khairy told Tengku Razaleigh that the first objective of a vaccination strategy is to prevent people from getting sick or dying from Covid-19.
“By preventing the disease, we can also possibly slow down infections because there is evidence showing infectivity is highest at the onset of symptoms.”Khairy Jamaluddin, Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation
“It is then hoped that when enough people are vaccinated, herd immunity will be achieved, protecting the remainder of the population that have not been or cannot be given the vaccine.”
The Umno lawmaker also said Covid-19 vaccine development has been expedited because of progress in science and technology, highlighting new mRNA and adenoviral vector-based vaccines that were developed before the pandemic. Pfizer’s and Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccines are mRNA-based.
“Global collaboration has also helped. The speedy release of the SARs-CoV-2 genome in January 2020 helped accelerate the development of vaccines. Finally, it is also because of the unprecedented amount of money that has been invested to develop a vaccine that can help end the global pandemic,” said Khairy.
He also maintained that the Malaysian government took the issue of vaccine safety very seriously, stressing that all vaccines must be approved and registered by the National Pharmaceutical Regulatory Agency (NPRA) before vaccinations begin in Malaysia. Malaysia, he said, has some of the most rigorous standards in the world.
“There will be no corners cut in NPRA’s independent evaluation of the clinical data.”
Khairy also disputed Tengku Razaleigh’s claim that Malaysia’s vaccine deal with Pfizer costs RM3 billion (RM2 billion for 12.8 million doses and RM1 billion for transport and storage), equating to RM234 per dose for Pfizer’s vaccine, a two-dose regimen, that must be stored at minus 70 degrees’ Celsius.
“This is simply ludicrous. Although I cannot reveal the exact price for the Pfizer vaccine which is bound by a non-disclosure agreement, I have mentioned previously in my reply to [Sungai Pelek assemblyman] YB Ronnie Liu that the cost is significantly less than RM100 per dose, which includes delivery to multiple points of vaccination.
“As for Malaysia’s ultra-cold capabilities, also previously mentioned in my reply to YB Ronnie Liu, we already have -80 degree Celsius freezers all over the country. For instance, our public universities and public research institutions have more than 125 ultra-cold freezers. If these freezers cannot be redeployed, we will make arrangements for the procurement of additional ultra-cold freezers,” said Khairy.
He reiterated that based on current negotiations to obtain a portfolio of Covid-19 vaccines for Malaysia, the government’s RM3 billion allocation suffices to cover 70 per cent of the population.
“The Pfizer deal clearly has not used up the entire allocation as recklessly alleged by the Gua Musang MP.”
Besides Tengku Razaleigh and DAP lawmaker Liu, who spread false claims that the Pfizer vaccine would alter a person’s DNA (this is scientifically untrue; an mRNA vaccine cannot enter a cell’s nucleus where our DNA lies), Sarikei MP Wong Ling Biu has also expressed skepticism about Covid-19 vaccines.
In his debate today on the Ministry of Health’s 2021 budget at the committee stage in Parliament, Wong, who was previously hospitalised 79 days for Covid-19, including 42 days in a coma, questioned the long-term side effects of Pfizer’s vaccine.
The DAP lawmaker also felt that he and his family were turned into “clinical subjects” when they tested positive for Covid-19, as he questioned who else would be “clinical subjects” of Covid-19 vaccines when they arrive in Malaysia.
Sabah Deputy Chief Minister Bung Moktar Radin, who is also Kinabatangan MP from Umno, then declared to Parliament that he would volunteer to be the first Malaysian to take a Covid-19 vaccine as he wanted to be healthy.