KUALA LUMPUR, June 7 — Former law minister Datuk Zaid Ibrahim has called for transparency in the procurement of vaccines by the government, adding that the openness would decrease suspicion of supply being throttled to create a monopoly.

In a report by media outlet Free Malaysia Today, Zaid added that Malaysia was struggling with the Covid-19 pandemic, having vaccinated only 4 per cent of its population.

“Our government is clearly out of its depth. The lack of transparency over vaccine agreements gives rise to suspicion that supply is being throttled to create a monopoly and keep pricing unnaturally high. 

“This is why the government needs to disclose details of the agreements entered into with manufacturers,” he said.

Zaid also questioned the conditions given by the federal government when it announced that state governments and private hospitals could purchase vaccines on June 3, adding that approval from the National Pharmaceutical Regulatory Agency (NPRA) was unnecessary.

“There is no need for mindless bureaucracy, since the potential purchasers would be the states themselves and hospitals which are already duly licensed to provide healthcare.

“The World Health Organization (WHO) and world-leading regulatory bodies such as the Federal Drug Agency (FDA) and the European Medicines Agency (EMA) have already approved under emergency authorisation several vaccines, including those by Moderna, Sinopharm, and Johnson & Johnson.

“What added value will NPRA’s approval bring? Why is there a need to involve NPRA to further approve the balance of the brands when WHO has already approved them under emergency circumstances?,” he said.

He added that the government’s condition to ensure that the federal government will retain priority for vaccines currently used in the National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme (NIP) could also raise concerns among the people given the unclear nature of vaccine agreements.

He also questioned if state governments and private companies will be allowed to negotiate with manufacturers directly or if they need to go through Pharmaniaga or another intermediary.

“If all the brands of vaccines have been approved by NPRA, will the government approve the importation of the vaccines by private companies on a commercial basis?

“The government should not have a monopoly and control of the supply of these vaccines when the private sector can organise it on a commercial basis for those that are willing to pay.

“The government can then focus on its role to ensure the B40 and those who cannot afford to pay are vaccinated. By doing so, the vaccination rate can be improved tremendously,” he said.

He also questioned why the government is only limiting its vaccine options to only three under NIP, adding that he was concerned about red tape which could drive up prices of vaccines procured by states and the private sector.

“If a more effective vaccine emerges and the private sector manages to secure its supply, is the government prepared to deprive itself, or will there be another U-turn?”

“We need to see a comprehensive plan in place, not a patchwork of confused thinking,” he said.