Sarawak To Buy Own Covid-19 Vaccines For Booster Shots

The Sarawak state government is likely to procure either Moderna or Sinovac for third doses, as Pfizer and AstraZeneca only deal with national governments.

KUALA LUMPUR, August 11 — The Sarawak government plans to purchase its own supply of Covid-19 vaccines for third doses expected to be administered in the state from October.

The country’s largest state is at the forefront of the coronavirus vaccination campaign behind the small island of Labuan, having fully inoculated more than half its total population, well above the national vaccination rate of 28 per cent.

“Sarawak ready to buy,” Sarawak state disaster management committee chairman Dr Sim Kui Hian told CodeBlue yesterday, when asked if the state government would procure its own supply or request vaccines from the federal government for the booster jabs.

He, however, declined to specify which vaccines the state would purchase, saying: “Very sensitive time of negotiation”.

Dr Sim added that the state government is awaiting recommendations from the Sarawak Covid-19 Advisory Group (SCOVAG) on which groups to inoculate with a third Covid-19 vaccine dose.

The United Kingdom’s Joint Committee for Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) issued last June 30 its recommendations of priority groups for Covid-19 booster shots to be offered from September in the first stage:

  • adults aged 16 years and over who are immunocompromised;
  • those living in residential care homes for older adults;
  • all adults aged 70 years or over;
  • adults aged 16 years and over who are considered clinically extremely vulnerable;
  • frontline health and social care workers.

Sarawak, like other states, has rolled out the Pfizer-BioNTech, AstraZeneca-Oxford, and Sinovac vaccines under the National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme (PICK).

Pfizer and AstraZeneca, however, only deal with national governments. Hence, Sarawak is likely to procure either Sinovac or the recently authorised Moderna, an mRNA vaccine, for its supply of booster shots.

It is unknown if the Sarawak state government plans to mix-and-match vaccines between the third shot and initial two-dose regimens, which may have to be the case if the state is unable to get Pfizer and AstraZeneca from the federal supply for booster shots.

Although hospital admissions for Category Three to Five patients and critical Covid-19 cases in Sarawak have substantially declined amid the state’s rapid vaccine rollout, according to the state health department, infections have been rising since mid-July amid the spread of the Delta variant, particularly in Kuching. Sarawak reported 4,542 Covid-19 cases in the past week from August 4 to 10, a 31 per cent increase compared to 3,464 cases the previous week.

The federal government has yet to announce its policy on Covid-19 booster jabs or heterologous vaccination. Ghows Azzam, science advisor to Vaccine Minister Khairy Jamaluddin, tweeted yesterday that booster shots can be considered at a later time, with sufficient data and supply, as vaccination should be prioritised for people who have yet to be protected.

About half of Malaysia’s total population have yet to receive their first dose, amid worsening outbreaks across the country and surging mortality rates.

Indonesia started giving Moderna as the third Covid-19 vaccine dose to health workers since late July after the deaths of hundreds of frontliners in the past two months, many of whom had been fully vaccinated, The Jakarta Post reported. Most health professionals had received Sinovac for their first two doses.

Other countries that have started or will begin administering booster shots — such as Israel, Thailand, and Cambodia — use either Pfizer or AstraZeneca as the third dose. Israel has started giving a third Pfizer shot to people aged 60 years and older, whereas Thailand has begun administering Pfizer as a booster dose to frontline medics who were double vaccinated with Sinovac. From tomorrow, Cambodia will be giving AstraZeneca booster shots to frontline workers who previously received two doses of either Sinopharm or Sinovac.

The UK is currently running clinical trials to compare seven different coronavirus vaccines as options for booster jabs — AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Moderna, Novavax, Valneva, Janssen, and Curevac — including studying the effectiveness of mixing vaccines.

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