KUALA LUMPUR, July 28 — Malaysia’s pursuit for Covid-19 vaccines began as early as April last year when most vaccine candidates had not yet undergone tests in humans, Khairy Jamaluddin told Parliament today.
He said the government through the Ministry of Health (MOH), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MOSTI) formed a science diplomacy approach on April 21, 2020, to establish international cooperation to obtain vaccine supplies.
The vaccine minister said the diplomatic approach allowed the government to hold negotiations with both foreign countries and Covid-19 vaccine companies. At the time, most vaccines against the coronavirus were still being studied and had not moved to clinical testing on humans.
In response to criticism from MPs, who pointed out that countries like Singapore and Israel ordered Covid-19 vaccines months before Malaysia’s first agreement last November, Khairy said Singaporean investment company Temasek invested US$250 million in BioNTech in June last year, a German company that jointly developed the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine with US pharmaceutical company Pfizer.
“So I assume that if Temasek is among the owners of the company, there is a big possibility that they (Singapore) will be prioritised in terms of vaccine delivery,” Khairy told the Dewan Rakyat today in his winding-up speech.
The Coordinating Minister of the National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme (PICK) also cited news reports that said Israel — among the first countries to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech shot early last December — paid a high price for the vaccine and agreed to share data with Pfizer on the impact of the vaccine rollout in its population.
“This option was not given to other countries,” said Khairy.
He also noted that Indonesia began its Covid-19 vaccination programme early with Sinovac because the country was a site for Sinovac’s Phase Three clinical trials of its vaccine.
Khairy said in the past two weeks, he has begun negotiations with vaccine developers, especially Pfizer, to finalise vaccine procurement for next year, including any specific shots for booster doses or vaccines for children.
Malaysia’s First Vaccine Deal In November 2020
“Upon negotiations with these countries and vaccine companies, and after the matter was brought to the JKJAV (Special Committee for Ensuring Access to COVID-19 Vaccine Supply) as well as Cabinet for consideration, the government signed the first vaccine procurement deal in November 2020,” Khairy told the Dewan Rakyat.
Malaysia’s first Covid-19 vaccine procurement agreement involved the country’s participation in the global COVAX facility under the GAVI Alliance, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), and the World Health Organization (WHO).
Each participating country is guaranteed a vaccine supply of between 10 to 50 per cent of the country’s population under COVAX. The government, through the COVAX facility, has so far agreed to obtain vaccines by AstraZeneca-Oxford, Johnson & Johnson, and Novavax.
On November 24, 2020, the government signed a direct procurement deal with Pfizer-BioNTech to secure doses enough to cover 20 per cent of the country’s 32.7 million population.
The amount has since been increased via two amended agreements on March 22 and May 19 this year, allowing 70 per cent of the national population to be inoculated with Pfizer’s vaccine.
On December 21, 2020, the government signed a direct deal to purchase the Covid-19 vaccine by AstraZeneca that would cover 10 per cent of the population.
On January 26, the government agreed to purchase Covid-19 vaccines by Sinovac and Gamaleya, and on January 29, for the CanSino vaccine.
“Based on these agreements, Malaysia’s Covid-19 vaccine portfolio has eight types of vaccines from six suppliers that can cover 130.3 per cent of the Malaysian population,” Khairy said.
He added that negotiations are ongoing with vaccine supplier companies to ensure that Malaysia has a buffer stock in the event of a supply disruption. This includes a deal to purchase an additional three million doses of Sinovac’s vaccine which is currently being finalised.
“Excess purchases exceeding 100 per cent of the total Malaysian population will be used as a buffer or for emergency use for communities that are not included in the national census like undocumented migrants or for children who have yet to be inoculated. It could also be used as booster shots which experts under JKJAV (Special Committee on Ensuring Access to Covid-19 Vaccine Supply) are still studying,” Khairy said.
MPs Blame Purported Vaccine Procurement Delay For Covid-19 Fatalities
Khairy’s explanation comes amid backlash from opposition MPs who blame the government’s delayed vaccine procurement for the country’s Covid-19 deaths.
Kulim Bandar Baharu MP Saifuddin Nasution Ismail blamed the National Pharmaceutical Regulatory Agency (NPRA) for creating a “bottleneck” that caused delays in the procurement of Covid-19 vaccines.
“Other countries made procurement commitments amid fierce competition and they were negotiating for the earliest possible delivery dates to save lives,” Saifuddin said, in reference to the United States and Singapore — the latter being the first country in Asia to procure Covid-19 vaccines.
“But here, we were told to wait for the NPRA. That is the bottleneck,” he said.
Bakri MP Yeo Bee Yin, who is former Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Minister, said thousands of lives could have been saved had the government expedited the inoculation rate during the first four months of PICK.
“They died because PICK was so slow for the first four months. This figure is not just a statistic, they are the lives of the Malaysian people, who have families and friends.
“The high vaccination rate today cannot give them back their lives. It’s too late for those who are gone and their families,” Yeo said.
Damansara MP Tony Pua yesterday said the government’s delay in procuring coronavirus vaccines was months behind Singapore, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Israel.
“The US, the UK, Israel, and our neighbour Singapore made orders in April, May, June, and July. When orders were made early, they received vaccine stocks early after the vaccines were approved,” Pua told the Dewan Rakyat.
“But we didn’t. We were just waiting around, I don’t know what we were waiting for,” he said.