KUALA LUMPUR, July 3 — Vaccine Minister Khairy Jamaluddin today criticised vaccine discrimination by the European Union (EU) and Saudi Arabia that only permit entry to travellers inoculated with Western-made Covid-19 vaccines.
The EU’s Digital Covid Certificate, or so-called “green pass”, only recognises the Vaxzevria brand of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine produced in the EU and the United Kingdom that has been approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA), besides the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson shots that received EU-wide marketing authorisation from the EMA.
Saudi Arabia also only recognises Covid-19 vaccines by British-Swedish pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, as well as by American drug makers Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson.
“Malaysia’s stand is that if the vaccines are accepted by the WHO (World Health Organization), then we ask that other countries also recognise people who were given such vaccines,” Khairy told reporters after visiting the Mines International Exhibition & Convention Centre (MIECC) vaccination site.
“Secondly, we hope that there will be no discrimination in terms of which factory the vaccine comes from. AstraZeneca manufacturing sites use the same formula, whether it’s the factory in Europe, India, South Korea, or Thailand. All their vaccines are the same.
“To me, isolating certain manufacturing sites seems unfair. However, we will get an explanation from the EU and ask them to look at other vaccines used by other countries,” added the science, technology and innovation minister.
CodeBlue broke the news yesterday about the EU Digital Covid Certificate not recognising the AstraZeneca vaccine used by Malaysia that is produced in South Korea, Thailand, and Japan, as the only AstraZeneca shot authorised by EMA is the Vaxzevria version. The EMA has also not approved Covishield, the AstraZeneca version manufactured in India, that is mostly used in the global COVAX vaccine-sharing programme backed by the United Nations.
EMA told CodeBlue that although South Korea’s SK Bioscience is listed in Vaxzevria’s product information as one of the manufacturers of the vaccine’s biological active substance, this did not lead to automatic approval for use of the South Korean jab in the EU, as the agency needs to evaluate vaccines based on “detailed information on manufacturing”, among others.
Malaysia’s direct procurement of 6.4 million AstraZeneca doses are produced by Thailand’s Siam Bioscience, while Malaysia’s request of 1.39 million AstraZeneca doses through COVAX are manufactured by South Korea’s SK Bioscience. Malaysia recently received a contribution from the Japanese government of a million AstraZeneca doses produced in Japan.
The European Commission (EC) confirmed to CodeBlue that individual EU countries had the final say on whether to permit entry to travellers inoculated with coronavirus vaccines not approved by the EMA, with the EC not obliging the EU’s 27 member states to issue EU Digital Covid Certificates for such shots.
Stefan de Keersmaecker, EC spokesman for public health, food safety, and transport, also said entry into the EU for non-essential travel “should” be allowed to people fully vaccinated with one of the four vaccines approved in the EU, and that this did not mean the vaccines must be produced in EMA-approved facilities. Individual EU countries, he said, could also permit entry to travellers vaccinated with Covid-19 vaccines approved by the WHO.
“Such matters are still in our discussions with other countries like Saudi Arabia,” Khairy said today, pointing out that many Muslim countries besides Malaysia, such as Indonesia, Pakistan, and Turkey, use China-made vaccines approved by the WHO. China’s Sinovac vaccine used in Malaysia has been approved by WHO.
“So when Saudi Arabia says they don’t recognise [these vaccines], how can pilgrims from those countries go to the Holy Land next year, for example. Vaccine recognition is a matter for discussion at the international level. We hope there won’t be discrimination.”