KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 1 — Malaysia has not been included in a list of over 120 countries exempted from tighter export restrictions on Covid-19 vaccines produced in the European Union (EU).
The EU’s initial export controls on Covid-19 vaccines that the bloc bought in advance — including Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca shots — are in effect from January 30 until March 31, raising questions on whether delivery of a million Pfizer-BioNTech doses to Malaysia by next month will be delayed.
Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Khairy Jamaluddin told CodeBlue last week that the first shipment of 144,000 Pfizer doses were scheduled to be delivered to Malaysia this month, with the national Covid-19 vaccination programme targeted to start this month as well. Malaysia’s Pfizer vaccine supply comes from the American pharmaceutical company’s manufacturing plant in Belgium.
Khairy also said AstraZeneca’s vaccines will be shipped to Malaysia as early as April; the delivery schedule of its 6.4 million doses for Malaysia will only be known this or next month.
The potential late delivery of Pfizer-BioNTech doses may delay Malaysia’s vaccine rollout — even though two million doses of Russia’s Sputnik V and China’s Sinovac vaccines have been scheduled for delivery by the first quarter — as local pharmaceutical regulators have only approved the Pfizer shot.
Sinovac’s coronavirus vaccine has also produced mixed efficacy results in various clinical trials, showing only 50.4 per cent effectiveness in a late-stage trial in Brazil.
Under the EU’s new export mechanism, pharmaceutical companies must seek permission from the EU country where the Covid-19 vaccine is manufactured before supplying doses beyond the bloc. The bloc’s 27 member states can reject export applications if they believe EU supplies will be affected, The Guardian reported.
The EU’s exemption list includes Covid-19 vaccines purchased through COVAX, as well as EU neighbours like Norway, Switzerland, and western Balkans and North African nations. The export control regime will not target poorer countries either. However, upper middle and high income Southeast Asian countries, like Malaysia and Singapore, have been left off the exemption list.
The EU’s vaccine export controls also exempt 92 low and middle income countries in the COVAX Advance Market Commitment (AMC) list, which are nations set to receive donor-funded doses from the global initiative co-led by the World Health Organization (WHO). Malaysia is not part of that list as it is a self-financing participant of COVAX, with the government paying for the vaccines it purchased from COVAX. ASEAN economies that are part of the AMC list include Cambodia, Indonesia, Myanmar, the Philippines, and Vietnam.
“This is not an export ban,” the European Commission said in a statement last Friday.
“To tackle the current lack of transparency of vaccine exports outside the EU, the Commission is putting in place a measure requiring that such exports are subject to an authorisation by Member States,” added the executive body of the EU.
The EU implemented its vaccine export control mechanism after publicly accusing UK-Swedish pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca of not honouring its promise to deliver to the bloc, with a reported shortfall of up to 60 per cent in the first quarter.
BBC reported that the EU is also in a supply dispute with Pfizer that is set to fall short of the contracted vaccine volume for the bloc by the end of March, which coincides with Malaysia’s delivery schedule. Pfizer reportedly said it had to drastically cut vaccine deliveries to the EU and other countries outside the United States until mid-February to upgrade its plant in Puurs, Belgium.
A delayed vaccine rollout in Malaysia will increase pressure on the government, amid record-high numbers of over 5,000 daily confirmed Covid-19 cases for the past three days despite a nationwide lockdown of over two weeks.
Both government and Opposition lawmakers previously questioned the apparently “late” vaccine rollout, pointing to neighbouring countries like Singapore, Indonesia, and Myanmar that have started their coronavirus vaccination drives.
CodeBlue has reached Khairy’s office for comment.