Recently, Malaysians, including several politicians, have taken to attacking the government’s vaccine procurement strategy, with accusations ranging from overpaying to misleading the public on how much will be spent on these life-saving therapies.
The Galen Centre for Health & Social Policy is concerned that such actions undermine, and erode public confidence in ongoing efforts to secure safe and effective vaccines to protect the Malaysian population.
While much of the confusion is due to the complexity of pharmaceutical procurement, a large portion of the attacks have been based on misinformation, disinformation, and conspiracy theories which continue to persist in the face of facts.
Close scrutiny is necessary when public funds are concerned. However, opportunists including anti-vaxxers in Malaysia, have jumped on the vaccine issue and politicised it, especially in the wake of the revelation of vaccine prices by Belgium’s Budget State Secretary Eva De Bleeker.
A number of points have been misrepresented either deliberately or due to ignorance. These must be confronted by facts.
The list of vaccine prices recently shared by the Belgium minister is for the European Union (EU) as a bloc, which has a population of 447 million, larger than the entire US population. It is not pricing just for Belgium. The EU pricing is also for a single dose.
As reported, Belgium will purchase more than 33 million doses for a total of €279 million (RM1.38 billion) for their population of 12 million. With the exception of the Johnson & Johnson candidate, the vaccines require two doses to be effective.
Volume and the country’s economic status have an impact on pricing. The EU pricing also does not include vaccine logistical costs to vaccination sites.
The Malaysian government has stated that it has allocated RM3 billion for the purchase of Covid-19 vaccines, which is expected to cover at least 70 percent of the population. It has not and is not expected to pay RM3 billion for just 10 million vaccines.
Based on publicly available information, 12.8 million doses (enough for 6.4 million people) of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will be procured. 6.4 million doses each from the COVAX initiative and AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccines, when combined (12.8 million doses), will protect 20 percent of the population. With these three vaccines, around 40 percent of the Malaysian population can expect to be vaccinated in 2021.
The Galen Centre estimates that the Pfizer vaccine at US$19.50 per dose (publicly known pricing) would cost around US$249.6 million (around RM1 billion). However, Minister for Science, Technology and Innovation Khairy Jamaluddin stated in Parliament recently that the government was able to secure the price of a single dose to be less than RM100, which includes the logistical costs up to the vaccination sites that will be handled by Pfizer.
This would mean that Malaysia is probably paying around RM1.2 billion for that vaccine. For COVAX, we estimate that it would cost RM275 million (@RM86/ person) and for AstraZeneca: RM89.6 million (@RM28/ person).
A large amount of protest and deliberate misinformation are also as a result of middlemen or tender agents being excluded from these vaccine deals. We commend the government for negotiating directly with the pharmaceutical companies concerned.
This is what happens when the government deals directly with the supplier and no middlemen such as tender agents are involved. A lot of public money is saved, the cost involved is reduced significantly. The Covid-19 public health emergency has disrupted the usual method of government pharmaceutical procurement, and we hope that this could be a model for the future.
Last night, we saw the first of Singapore’s vaccine orders arrive at Changi airport. Vaccination will soon start in that country. Thanks to the joint efforts of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation, and the Ministry of Health, despite a late start compared to some of our neighbours, we finish this year with a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.
We begin 2021 with three vaccines poised for rollout throughout the year to benefit and protect at least 40 percent of the population. While we continue to scrutinise the government’s Covid-19 response, the Galen Centre stands in support of ongoing efforts to provide safe and effective vaccines for the Malaysian population.
Azrul Mohd Khalib is the chief executive of the Galen Centre for Health & Social Policy.