KUALA LUMPUR, March 25 – Malaysia may be forced to discard 3.3 million unused doses of Pfizer-BioNTech’s specially formulated Covid-19 vaccine for children, half the government’s purchase of 6.6 million doses.
As of March 2, Malaysia has received 2,238,000 doses ordered from Pfizer for the National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme for Children (PICKids), according to the most recent data available from the Dewan Rakyat Public Accounts Committee’s (PAC) latest Covid-19 Vaccine Procurement report tabled in Parliament yesterday.
The country is scheduled to receive the remaining 4,362,000 paediatric Covid-19 vaccine doses in batches on March 3 (552,000 doses), April 4 (552,000 doses), April 11 (552,000 doses), April 18 (1,110,000 doses), and an unconfirmed date for 1,596,000 doses.
Despite Pfizer’s delivery of 2,238,000 Covid-19 vaccine doses in January and February, Ministry of Health (MOH) data show that only 1,277,247 doses had been administered to children aged five to 11 years old as of March 23, covering just 36 per cent of 3.6 million kids in that age group vaccinated with their first dose.
Paediatric coronavirus vaccinations slumped from an average of 50,000 daily jabs at the end of February to less than 20,000 daily jabs from the second half of March.
In the past two weeks from March 10 until March 23, PICKids averaged at under 14,000 jabs per day, with the daily number of children vaccinated dropping below 10,000 on March 20, then declining further to below 5,000 on March 21. Second doses are expected to commence next week, as Malaysia is using an eight-week interval for the paediatric Covid-19 inoculation programme.
The declining pattern suggests that the PICKids programme peaked early in just three weeks after vaccines were rolled out for under-12 children on February 3, amid widespread hesitancy towards kids’ Covid-19 vaccination.
By April 18, Malaysia is expected to have received delivery of 5,004,000 children’s Covid-19 vaccine doses. At the current rate of 14,000 daily jabs from the past fortnight, another 364,000 vaccine doses are estimated to be utilised from today until April 18.
Hence, only some 1,641,247 children’s vaccine doses are estimated to be administered overall as of April 18. Assuming all of these are first doses and an equivalent number is needed for second doses, Malaysia’s requirement of some 3.3 million children’s vaccine doses still leaves 1.7 million doses unutilised from the batch of five million expected by April 18.
This excludes another batch of 1,596,000 doses with an undetermined delivery date after April 18.
Overall, this translates to a potential wastage of about 3.3 million Covid-19 vaccine doses for children.
CodeBlue’s calculations also assume that all of the vaccines that will be administered in PICKids until April 18 are Pfizer’s shot, which may not necessarily be the case as regulators recently approved Sinovac for children aged five to 11. Hence, Malaysia’s potential wastage may exceed 3.3 million vaccine doses.
Pfizer’s two-dose 10 micrograms (mcg) Covid-19 vaccines can only be administered to children ages five to 11 years, as people ages 12 and older receive 30 mcg in each Pfizer’s mRNA vaccine dose.
The government’s 6.6 million-dose estimation for PICKids is based on vaccine acceptance of 3,265,720 children, or 80 per cent of the age five to under 12 population numbering at 4,082,150 individuals.
According to the United States’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) storage and handling summary of Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine formulation for five to 11-year-old children, the vaccines have a shelf life of nine months at ultra-cold freezer temperatures of -90 degrees Celsius and -60 degrees Celsius.
At refrigerator temperatures of between 2 degrees Celsius and 8 degrees Celsius, the Pfizer vaccines can last for up to 10 weeks. Once mixed, vials can be stored between 2 degrees Celsius to 25 degrees Celsius for up to 12 hours, after which they must be discarded.
Malaysia’s MOH previously admitted to throwing away some Covid-19 vaccines due to mishandling and storage errors. The amount of batches affected, however, was not disclosed.
Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin had also announced plans to donate more of Malaysia’s Covid-19 vaccines to other countries, as many are just months away from expiry.
Malaysia previously donated 559,200 AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine doses to Bangladesh and another 283,400 AstraZeneca vaccine doses to Laos in December last year. Deputy Foreign Minister Kamaruddin Jaffar reportedly told Parliament last March 17 that Malaysia plans to donate 1.6 million coronavirus vaccine doses to Afghanistan.
CodeBlue reported last month that over 409,000 AstraZeneca doses may go to waste from the latest and final batch of 1,365,200 AstraZeneca shots received on February 16 from the government’s direct order of 6.4 million doses. According to the lot release certificates issued by the National Pharmaceutical Regulatory Agency (NPRA), this vaccine batch will expire on May 31.