Khairy: Singapore could pay premium price, Indonesia did own trials to get Covid-19 vaccines ahead of Malaysia

Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Khairy Jamaluddin speaks during a press conference at Parliament in Kuala Lumpur January 5, 2021. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Khairy Jamaluddin speaks during a press conference at Parliament in Kuala Lumpur January 5, 2021. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

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KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 14 — Malaysia is on track to receive the first of its Covid-19 vaccines from Pfizer in January, Khairy Jamaluddin assured the country today.

The science, technology and innovation minister noted that Malaysia would still be among the first countries in the region to get access to the vaccines.

He also explained why neighbouring countries Singapore and Indonesia were ahead of Malaysia in deploying the vaccines.

“Singapore was able to ‘place bets’ on vaccine candidates earlier because of greater resources,” he said, citing a December 2020 report by the Associated Press on Singapore’s vaccine procurement measures.

“With a budget of more than S$1billion (RM3.05 billion) for their population — which is about the same budget as Malaysia for our population that is roughly five times larger — I am sure they entered into advanced purchase agreements at premium prices ahead of publication of interim trial data,” Khairy said in a statement.

Indonesia was also receiving Chinese maker Sinovac’s vaccine ahead of Malaysia because it conducted phase three clinical trials internally.

“Why was Malaysia not a site for clinical trials for Sinovac? Sinovac trials started last year and when we offered Malaysia as a trial site, the number of positive cases were low. So was the rate of infectivity.

“Hence, Sinovac declined to include Malaysia in their Phase III trial programme. Clinical trials need high infectivity rates to be successful,” Khairy explained.

The minister, who also co-chairs the Special Committee on Ensuring Access to Covid-19 Vaccine Supply, said not being the first in the region to receive the vaccines did not mean the country was lagging in the area.

“Many developed countries have received their vaccines. This is because they have paid a lot to corner the market even before the availability of safety and efficacy data,” he said.

Khairy was referring to a September report published by international human rights activist group Oxfam International that stated how rich nations representing just 13 per cent of the world’s population had already ‘cornered’ more than half, or 51 per cent, of the promised doses of leading Covid-19 vaccine candidates.

“But we are certainly not laggards. For example, Japan placed its order for the Pfizer vaccine in July 2020 and will receive it in February, which is the same time as us.

“South Korea placed its order in December 2020, a month after us, and is scheduled to receive the Pfizer vaccine in Q3 of 2021,” he wrote.

Khairy added that the government will continue to only make informed and researched procurement decisions based on clinical data assessments, without having to pay huge premiums and down payments, while learning from the rollout of vaccinations campaigns in other countries.

This comes as Singapore and Indonesia over the last week began rolling out their vaccination programs, with both nations choosing to kick off their respective programs by having their leaders, Lee Hsien Loong and Joko Widodo respectively be the first to be vaccinated as a sign of confidence in the vaccine.

On Monday, the government signed a deal to buy an additional 12.2 million doses of a Covid-19 vaccine manufactured by Pfizer and German drugmakers BioNTech, the health ministry had announced.

The deal brings the total amount of the Pfizer vaccines procured by Malaysia to 25 million doses, enough to inoculate 39 per cent of its population, the ministry said.  

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