Malaysia Among Fastest In Asia Pacific To Access Covid-19 Vaccines: Fitch

Safety or lower efficacy issues with Chinese vaccines, which have yet to show Phase 3 clinical trial results, could delay vaccine access for Asian countries to the end of 2021, says Fitch Solutions.

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 22 — Fitch Solutions has listed Malaysia among Asia Pacific nations with the quickest access to Covid-19 vaccines through near-term delivery of effective or approved shots.

Fitch Solutions Group, an affiliate of Fitch Ratings Inc, placed Malaysia in Group 1 that comprises countries with the fastest access to Covid-19 vaccines, with most priority groups to be vaccinated by June 2021.

In its analysis of Covid-19 vaccination in the Asia Pacific region, Fitch Solutions also split countries into Group 2 (countries with slower access, most priority groups vaccinated by September 2021) and Group 3 (countries with slowest access, most priority groups vaccinated by February 2022).

“Malaysia’s government revealed in late November that it had signed two agreements to purchase vaccines, including 12.8 million [doses] of Pfizer’s vaccine and enough to inoculate 10 per cent of the population through the COVAX initiative.

“Prime Minister Muhyiddin [Yassin] expects 30 per cent of the population to be vaccinated in 2021,” said a report by Fitch Solutions Country Risk & Industry Research issued last Friday.

International Trade and Industry Minister Mohamed Azmin Ali reportedly said last Saturday that the Malaysian government expected to receive the first batch of the coronavirus vaccine by US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and its German partner, BioNTech, in February.

Malaysia has, so far, purchased 12.8 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech shot to cover 6.4 million people on a two-dose regimen, or 20 per cent of the population.

Health Minister Dr Adham Baba told reporters last Saturday that the government would be signing its third Covid-19 vaccine agreement — a deal with UK pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca to immunise 20 per cent of the Malaysian population with the Covid-19 vaccine developed by a collaboration between AstraZeneca and Oxford University.

Besides Malaysia, Fitch Solutions also placed Singapore, Australia, China, Hong Kong, India, and Japan in Group 1 with the quickest access to Covid-19 vaccines through near-term delivery of vaccines that have demonstrated efficacy or are already approved.

British and American regulators have already approved the Pfizer-BioNTech shot. The United States’ Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has also approved Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine. Both Pfizer and Moderna shots showed roughly similar efficacy rates at 95 per cent and 94 per cent respectively in preventing symptomatic Covid-19 infections. AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine showed 62 per cent efficacy for participants who received two full doses at least a month apart, as well as 90 per cent efficacy for the minority of participants who received a half dose first, according to an interim analysis of its Phase 3 trial published in the Lancet on December 8.

Health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah told a press conference yesterday that the country’s pharmaceutical regulator, the National Pharmaceutical Regulatory Agency (NPRA), would take 90 to 120 days to decide on whether to approve the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine after receiving Pfizer’s application on December 15 for registration of its vaccine in Malaysia.

Assuming that Dr Noor Hisham meant 90 to 120 calendar days, as opposed to 90 to 120 working days as previously stated by Dr Adham and Deputy Health Minister Dr Noor Azmi Ghazali, this means that Malaysia’s first Covid-19 vaccine may only be approved the earliest by mid-March, even though the government expects delivery of the Pfizer-BioNTech jab in February.

Fitch Solutions listed Bangladesh, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, Pakistan, the Philippines, South Korea, Thailand, and Vietnam in Group 2 with medium-term access to Covid-19 vaccines that are unlikely to gain regulatory approval until the second quarter of 2021, or countries for which slower vaccine rollout is expected.

According to the research unit, a number of countries closely aligned with China — including Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam — have already been promised coronavirus vaccine supply by China, as Fitch Solutions projected delivery of a significant number of doses to these nations during the first half of next year.

“However, some of the countries have also made more formal agreements for vaccine supply from other developers and are not willing to receive the promised vaccines.”

Afghanistan, Bhutan, Brunei, Mongolia, Nepal, North Korea, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Timor-Leste were listed in Group 3 as they have yet to make direct agreements with vaccine manufacturers and will rely instead on the global COVAX scheme co-led by the World Health Organization (WHO).

“COVAX is now purchasing vaccines from developers; however, progress on this front has been slow as many countries have also made deals direct with vaccine manufacturers, effectively booking large proportions of the available vaccine supply expected in 2021.

“As a result, we do not expect COVAX to make a significant improvement to the global vaccine access picture until at least H221,” said Fitch Solutions.

The research unit highlighted significant risks to its outlook in light of the “wait-and-see” approach by several Asian countries to vaccine procurement, especially given the declining availability of the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and AstraZeneca shots amid new orders.

“Equally, many countries in the region will be reliant on China’s vaccines, for which we are yet to see Phase III results. If these vaccines demonstrate safety and efficacy in line with our expectations, then distribution to China’s regional allies should progress over the H121. However, lower efficacy or safety issues could delay access for Asian countries to the
end of 2021.”

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